COVID-19 does not belong on screen

As production companies now have approval to continue working on new seasons of TV shows and movie adaptations, the pandemic takes a starring role in most of them.

The “Chicago” series on NBC, for example, has fully incorporated the pandemic into its cinematic universe.

The latest season of the long-running medical drama, “Grey’s Anatomy,” is centered around the pandemic as well, with the titular character undergoing treatment for COVID-19.

There has also been a plethora of movies attempting to portray the realities of life in quarantine. “Locked Down,” starring actors Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor, details the life of a couple driving each other crazy during quarantine.

“Host,” a horror movie filmed entirely over Zoom, tells the story of a group of friends who are under quarantine during the pandemic. In “Safer at Home,” an upcoming thriller set in 2022, the pandemic has left Los Angeles in chaos and turned the city into a police state.

So much to the dismay of everyone relying on TV and movies as a form of escapism, the pandemic has seeped into our vacation plans, our social lives, daily work and school routines, the news we watch and now the media we consume. 

I fully understand the pandemic is now a reality — we have gone through nearly a year of staying inside, masking up and washing our hands more vigorously than ever before.

As many of us continue to hunker down in our homes, binge-watching the latest television shows and movies is not only a way for us to stay entertained, it is also a way for us to feel connected to the rest of the world. 

The pandemic is now part of every aspect of our lives. This is precisely the reason why we need fewer television shows and movies surrounding the topic.

From grocery shopping, to ads on social media and ordinary news channels, it is everywhere we turn. 

While I am not looking to ignore the seriousness of the situation, turn my back on health care professionals or ignore the fact that the pandemic is disproportionately affecting marginalized groups, I would like just one avenue of my life to talk about something else, anything else.

There are ways around including the pandemic for existing pieces of media.

It is not an impossible task. The latest season of Fox’s “Last Man Standing” is set postpandemic. FX’s “American Horror Story” and “American Crime Story” are simply leaving these events out altogether, under the idea that the show is set in a completely alternate universe. 

Other shows could address the pandemic for an episode or two, then move on to the originally planned plot.

In terms of new media, I would argue part of the reason Netflix’s “Bridgerton” is so popular is that it is set in a completely different time period, with no semblance of a pandemic going on at all. 

This is a good time for entertainment companies to pitch period pieces, especially after seeing the success and positive ratings “Bridgerton” received. 

Aside from the fact that we cannot escape from COVID-19 on or off the screen, I believe that including the pandemic in movie and television show plots can be too easily mishandled. It is very difficult to include the subplot responsibly.

On “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” for example, the characters are frequently shown wearing their masks right up until the moment they come up and talk to each other, which is precisely the opposite of what you are supposed to do.

In the “Chicago” series, main characters have not worn masks at all in recently aired episodes.

If directors are going to include the pandemic in their productions, the characters on the show should at the very least be responsible in their practices. After all, characters are often seen wearing seatbelts while in a car because that is a standard safety practice we engage in every day, much like wearing a mask. 

It is natural and frankly not surprising the entertainment industry would look to tell stories about what the world is going through in hopes we may find comfort in stories. However, the pandemic is a collective trauma we are still going through as a society, and it is too soon to be attempting to portray this crisis in television and movies.