It’s been more than a year since the world shut down, and we were all told to stay at home in order to avoid contracting or spreading COVID-19.
Businesses adapted to a remote work strategy. Parents became teachers as their kids started learning from the screen. And when we did have to go outside, we wore masks and used copious amounts of hand sanitizer.
But now that a vaccine has been developed, the world is starting to return to normal. Employees are returning to their cubicles. Children are spending the summer with friends outside. And masks are becoming an optional apparatus—though I can’t help but hope the extra-handwashing remains a healthy habit.
And with this return to society, we’re also seeing a return to television—new television shows, that is.
Many big networks started up again once they could rapid-test cast and crew members, creating a safer environment for filming. But they also reflected the state of the pandemic. Characters wore masks and hoarded toilet paper, some became obsessed with sanitizing everything they touched and sadly, we learned that some characters passed away as a result of the coronavirus.
Netflix’s new show Sweet Tooth seems to take this approach even further.
Based on the dystopian comic books of the same name, Sweet Tooth paints a portrait of a world ravaged by a deadly virus. And though the series was conceived well before COVID, it was filmed during it. And it reflects plenty of experiences that, for more than a year, felt all-too familiar. Much like our own experience, people started wearing face masks, governments enforced quarantines, hospitals were overrun with sick people and lots of people died.
And it begs the question: In a post-pandemic world, do we really want to be reminded of the hardships we faced?
Sweet Tooth’s approach is, of course, fictional and a wee bit extreme. In the show, the pandemic coincides with the appearance of half-human, half-animal kids who are hunted down. No hybrid children were born during the coronavirus pandemic. But combined with other shows addressing the real-life pandemic—such as Superstore, The Conners, New Amsterdam and This Is Us—I can’t help but wonder if this is helping or hurting.
In some ways, I like it when TV reflects real life. It can feel like a part of history. But in other ways, many people use television as a means of escape. And if you’re trying to escape the realities of COVID (perhaps because you, your friends or your family were deeply impacted by the virus), then sitting down to watch your favorite shows—only to be reminded of what you went through—could actually be detrimental.
Some shows, such as Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet and Parks and Recreation, created specials during the pandemic (filmed via Zoom from the comfort of each actor’s home). They aimed to remind us that we’re all in this together and to offer a glimmer of hope to those most affected.
And while I’m not suggesting that these shows reflected the coronavirus “correctly,” it does help that these individual episodes were specifically written to boost our spirits. The Zoom aspect normalized Hollywood actors and made them more approachable. And especially as someone who had to quarantine alone, seeing some of my favorite characters go through the same challenges I was facing at the time somehow made me feel less alone.
However, now that the world is returning to normal—or at least forming a new normal—I think I’d like to see fewer things that remind me of COVID-19, if for no other reason than most shows’ approach to the pandemic feels cheap and forced. Almost as if they’re checking off a box.
I’m not saying that any show is correct or incorrect for depicting the challenges of the coronavirus. But much like a soldier will often avoid watching war movies that depict a war he or she fought in, I am saying that we should all evaluate what we can handle in terms of shows that depict the pandemic.