Monday, February 6, 2023

Hollywood went all out for pandemic entertainment, but one thing was missing

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“Why the hell would you want to do that?”

That’s what Samuel L. Jackson (as fictional reporter Dash Brackett) says to the camera at the start of Netflix’s recent mock documentary special Death to 2020 when they’re told they’re going back to 2020. The hour-long comedy collage, assembled by the Black Mirror Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones crew, are supposed to take an ice pick for the calamitous events of the year just ended, rolling talking heads played by Leslie Jones, Kumail Nanjiani, Lisa Kudrow and others to provide a heartbreaking historical context. (Kudrow probably gets the best times as a Republican spokesperson in the Kellyanne Conway mold.)

The many big names are doing their best, and while there is some fun to be had in the memories and comments (like the fact that King tiger was briefly one thing), it’s also difficult to find a great place for comedy taking a high-level view of racial injustice and the gruesome human toll of a pandemic that’s not yet exactly in the rearview mirror. It sounds less like a loving look at past events from an appropriate degree of distance than an evocation of an hour. of this gif.

As such, Sam Jackson’s words are even truer than they might otherwise be. But then again, that question could just as easily be asked of much of the new Hollywood content created in the wake of COVID-19 enveloping the world. While we admit that “the show must go on” is the axiomatic of the entertainment industry, 2020 is a time when this sense of ability to do has been truly tested, with media conglomerates determined to keep content in. place even by combating the production challenges linked to the pandemic and the changing appetites of consumers

In an era when the daily lives of so many people were defined by the “journey” from one Zoom call to another, it was perhaps inevitable that so many entertainments would embody a similar philosophy, of Saturday Night. Live to entire sitcoms. and feature films. Indeed, if all pop culture artifacts are inevitably a commentary or criticism of when they were produced, then the COVID 19-induced TV and films of 2020 and 2021 are sure to give future cultural archaeologists a lot. to be considered as they rush through the wreckage of this misunderstood period.

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There is an inherent paradox at play when productions such as Saturday Night Live, rather than going mothballs for the rest of the season, choose to record multiple (sometimes funny, no doubt) video calls from its socially estranged cast to chain up and call it a show – with ‘host’ Tom Hanks’ introductory monologue in his kitchen. While the driving intent was to present a sense of normalcy and continuity in this wholly anomalous time, the very existence of the show in this form undermines that message.

The same could just as well be said of the other offerings that have emerged in response to the pandemic, from NBC’s Here-and-A-Party comedy series Connecting, to Netflix’s topical but depressing Social Distance, to HBO Max’s gimmicky. Locked, all of which were created by talented people who try to use technical limits to their advantage. The first, about a group of friends trying to stay connected even while sheltering in place, attempted to do for video conferencing screens what Friends did with their coffee or The Office with … the office. .

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But given the everyday realities of video conferencing that have engulfed the lives of so many this year, the premise itself was less a new vanity than another reminder of the general annoyance so many people desperately want to escape. It is no coincidence that comfort food like friends and The Office remained at the top of the streaming charts in 2020, while the connection was disconnected by NBC after four episodes.

Speaking of comfort food and a fondness for the familiar, another barrier to entry is having to take on a whole new set of characters and internalize their relationships and conflicts. This was especially noticeable for Connecting, as it’s hard to see why this particular group of characters, spanning ages, sexualities, and geographies, would have a reason to empathize regularly in the absence of a shared workspace.

That said, we’ve seen several series underway attempting to incorporate COVID-19 into their narrative in a way that has often paid creative and emotional dividends, thanks to our existing attachment to the characters. NBC’s Superstore brilliantly highlighted the plight of essential retail workers while medical shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Chicago Med and The Good Doctor examined the toll of health workers. Meanwhile, the courtroom drama All Rise was the first series to tackle the pandemic last spring with its fully Zoom season finale.All of these shows have used their pre-existing settings and scenarios to look at the pandemic in a way that highlights the strengths of their respective ensembles. It may also explain why last spring’s unique reunion focused on Zoom for 30 Rock and Parks and recreation did not succumb to the same failure as Connexion, as the groundwork had already been done to establish these characters and their relationships, and it was an opportunity to see them in a new setting and essentially allow the audience to feel reunite with old friends.

HBO Max’s Locked Down has a similar issue to Connecting, featuring ordinary people trying to navigate Lockdown like the rest of us (albeit with the added wrinkle of that heist movie). Yes, the fact that writer Steven Knight and director Doug Liman took the entire project from concept to completion in three months is an impressive feat considering the technical and procedural hurdles they had to overcome, but the problem nonetheless is that the pandemic itself is not. Reason enough to watch a movie (in fact, it’s probably a deterrent). This is especially true when we’re tasked with investing in characters that aren’t particularly likeable, despite the acting efforts of stars Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

While there is always hope that the entertainment will illuminate a greater truth or highlight a complicated issue, “escape” is still part of the contract between creators and consumers, and continually reminding us of the inconvenience of l ‘here-and-now, this very “escape” is what was most lacking in these various attempts to exploit the contents of and about the pandemic.

Of course, with the distribution of vaccines and the end of the coronavirus tunnel starting to light up, Hollywood projects will eventually return to normal. With a slew of blockbusters delayed from 2020 eventually ending up (theatrically or otherwise), “business as usual” for movies and TV is looming around the corner, making content linked to the pandemic of this era even more important. fascinating pin in time. So while the subject matter of Brooker and Jones inevitably left something to be desired, they at least got the right title: Death to 2020 and all the TV gadgets that came with it.


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