How Are TV Shows Narrating Pandemic Times?

"Grey's Anatomy" in its seventeenth season. Photo Courtesy: ABC

We’ve already told you about how films and TV shows are being made in COVID times, with social distancing, masking, production bubbles and frequent testing measures put in place. Let’s talk about some of the scripted series that have actually tackled the last year of our reality and have incorporated the pandemic into their storylines.

For some shows — like network medical dramas Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), New Amsterdam (NBC), Chicago Med (NBC) and The Good Doctor (ABC) — writing the pandemic into their current seasons and portraying overwhelmed hospitals and overworked health professionals made sense. Not only that, but opting for a virus-free environment also would have detached these contemporary dramas from the reality they’re trying to illustrate.

The veteran Grey’s Anatomy opened season 17 with the Grey Sloan hospital hit hard by the virus. The show’s titular character — doctor Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) — would end up contracting COVID-19 and having to be hospitalized. As she falls in and out of consciousness during her illness, her character has a recurring dream in which she reunites with her late lover Derek (Patrick Dempsey). In a way, the pandemic created the perfect storm to bring back a beloved character for a few episodes.

But medical procedurals haven’t been the only shows to make pandemic struggles part of their plots — other network shows have also done it. We’re talking about ABC’s Black-ish and CBS’s NCIS: New Orleans, for instance. In the case of Kenya Barris’ sitcom, the show has bet on the fact that the matriarch of the family, Tracee Ellis Ross’ Rainbow, is a doctor. Season seven of Black-ish portrayed the beginning of the pandemic and how it affected the hospital where Rainbow works.

In the case of NCIS: New Orleans, the police procedural also went back to the early days of the pandemic in its seventh season to expose its devastation from the perspective of overburdened coroner Loretta Wade (CCH Pounder).