‘Love in the Time of Corona’ is touching, but shallow
With apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez — so many apologies — a show called “Love in the Time of Corona” seemed inevitable.
Judging by the evidence of the four-episode limited dramaseries (airing Saturday and Sunday on Freeform, then on Hulu), the answer is yes.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about it is how it was shot — with remote cameras, in the homes of the actors. The scripted series, which stars real-life couples like Leslie Odom Jr. (“Hamilton”) and Nicolette Robinson quarantining together, manages to shoehorn in almost every facet of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our lives, in glossy soap-opera fashion.
But it only touches on them. It’s a mile wide and an inch deep, as they say, too often lapsing into cliche or giving the feeling it’s checking off boxes inspired by the latest headlines (Job loss! Bad distancing decisions! Drive-by celebrations!) to be as effective as it could be.
The series looks at the lives of four groups of people, each affected in their own way by the pandemic. Oscar (Tommy Dorfman) is a gay man living with his best friend Elle (Rainey Qualley), a straight woman; Dorfman is married in real life but he and Qualley are friends and have been quarantining together.
James (Odom) and Sade (Robinson), finally together after work-induced time apart, wonder whether having another baby would be a wise decision during the pandemic; social-justice concerns also come up during the sometimes contentious discussions.
Paul (Gil Bellows) and Sarah (Rya Kihlstedt) are quarantining with their daughter Sophie (Ava Bellows), home from college. Sophie leans on them for emotional support, but all is not as smooth as it seems below the surface. (They’re also a real-life family.)
Finally, Nanda (L. Scott Caldwell) — James’ mother — is sheltering at home alone, while her husband (Charlie Robinson) is in a nursing home. They have virtual dinners every night, but he’s beginning to lose touch with what’s going on around him.
Caldwell is outstanding, the best thing about the series. She captures the heartbreak of bad news piling onto bad news in the middle of bad news, and the difficulty of maintaining some sense of normalcy in her life and that of her family. It’s hard work and it shows — Caldwell lets it show.
When James learns of the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man chased, shot and killed by white men in Georgia, it informs his desire to have another child. (And let’s face it, Odom is just a magnetic actor.) And without giving anything away, the last scene is so sweet (although it doesn’t tie things together as well as it might) that much is forgiven.
But there aren’t enough moments like that in the four episodes. “Pleasant enough” is about the most you can say for the show. And that’s not really enough. Our own COVID-touched lives toggle between boredom and high drama in the midst of all this. If a movie or a TV show is going to depict life in the pandemic, it’s going to have to be more interesting than ours. Too often, “Love in the Time of Corona” just isn’t.
Nicolette Robinson and Leslie Odom Jr., a real-life couple quarantining together, play the same on “Love in the Time of Corona.” FREEFORM