In a few years from now, fingers crossed, we will look back at artifacts from the COVID-19 era, including Freeform’s new limited series “Love in the Time of Corona,” and we will study them for clues. What does it look like when civilized humans are forced to scavenge for toilet paper? Was Hell other people when Americans sheltered at home, or did they love the one they were with? Both, maybe, on alternate days?
You know: What happens when people stop being polite and start getting real — in masks?
Since March, TV viewers have been bingeing in huge numbers, speeding through series instead of going to restaurants, concerts, and movies. And as Hollywood production of new content has slowed, taking some of the Peak out of Peak TV, a few shows filmed according to quarantine safety rules have been joining the mix. The most obvious efforts have been in late-night TV, with hosts at their homes, Zoom interviews, and no audiences. But a few scripted pieces are on the way, too, each specifically about life during the virus, including an NBC sketch show from Lilly Singh, Jenji Kohan’s Netflix anthology series “Social Distance,” an NBC sitcom called “Connecting,” and an HBO movie due Sept. 12 called “Coastal Elites” with Bette Midler, Dan Levy, and Issa Rae.
First up, though, we have “Love in the Time of Corona,” four half-hour episodes created and written by Joanna Johnson that air Saturday and Sunday nights at 8. It’s a kind of “Love Actually” for this moment, as it moves among four or five stories about love at various stages of development during quarantine. Some of the stories are fresher than others, but all of them fit together nicely as a portrait of this juncture. The overall tone has a rom-com sweetness to it — none of the central characters is facing financial disaster or death from the disease, and there are no never-maskers afoot. But it nonetheless gets at some genuine pandemic issues, most notably a husband unable to leave rehab to celebrate his 50th anniversary with his wife (played by the wonderful L. Scott Caldwell).
I suppose if the limited series stayed on just one story about quarantine, it might become claustrophobic an hour or less in — a quality that has seeped into some of the late-night shows, particularly early in the pandemic. So it helps that Johnson gives us a variety of homes, backyards, and sets of characters. Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson play a married couple with a toddler daughter — which mirrors Odom and Robinson’s real-life situation. A movie producer, he has been away a lot over the years, but now they are making up for lost time. What about a second child? As they deal with that complicated question, the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia by white locals hits the news, leaving them even more unsettled in their decision-making.
Real-life couple Gil Bellows (“Ally McBeal”!) and Rya Kihlstedt play parents who are keeping their separation secret from their fragile daughter, who is played by real-life daughter Ava Bellows. The actors have been quarantining together, and that brings a nice sense of realism to their fictional quarantine, notably in a family-dancing scene. Likewise in the story of real-life friends Rainey Qualley and Tommy Dorfman, who play roommates who are soulmates. Are they getting in the way of each other’s love life? Should they become lovers? Their story may be the most Freeform of all, as it occupies the sweet spot for teens and young adults.
Without COVID-19 in the air, so to speak, “Love in the Time of Corona” would probably seem wan and, at points, clichéd. But as an effort to be both of and about life in 2020, as an attempt to adapt to difficult filming protocols, it’s not bad.
LOVE IN THE TIME OF CORONA
Starring: Leslie Odom Jr., Nicolette Robinson, Rainey Qualley, Tommy Dorfman, Gil Bellows, Rya Kihlstedt, Ava Bellows, L. Scott Caldwell, Emilio Garcia-Sanchez
On: Freeform. Aug. 22-23 at 8 p.m.