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The ongoing pandemic has been framed by some industry Pollyannas as the ultimate creative challenge, but Covid-themed, quarantine-constrained TV has yet to overcome the conditions in which it’s made. So it is with Freeform’s Love in the Time of Corona, a Love, Actually-style ensemble rom-com that’s mercifully better-looking than most other Zoom-heavy episodes that have been shot post-lockdown.
That’s not necessarily an endorsement; it’s a showcase of cornpone writing, wildly uneven acting and voyeuristic glimpses of performers’ houses. (The cast, made up of real-life couples, families and roommates, were filmed in their own homes, which have been turned into antiseptic sets.) The four-part series, which airs over two consecutive nights, is a testament to the cast and crew’s resourcefulness, but rarely transcends its stock scenarios or PSA vibe.
AIR DATE Aug 22, 2020
For reasons that become clear by the end, Love in the Time of Corona is set in the first weeks of the pandemic, though it hardly captures the angst and disbelief of March and April. In true rom-com fashion, it’s also conspicuously aspirational, with the majority of its L.A.-based characters in creative occupations like travel writer, singer-songwriter, movie producer and fashion stylist. A minor character is laid off from his job, but he’s an aspiring musician, too, and never really has to worry about the basics of survival. In fact, save for the travel writer, none of the characters seem all that worried about how they’ll pay rent next month or when they’ll start receiving that first, urgently needed unemployment check.
Sure, people need escapism now more than ever. But the half-measure fantasy that the series provides — where everyone is stuck in their homes, but seems to have no other Covid-related worries — feels airless and contrived, even for the rom-com genre.
Leslie Odom, Jr. is one of the few bright spots as movie producer James, whose frequent work travel has forced him to miss out on his wife Sade’s (Nicolette Robinson) pregnancy and the early years of their (never seen) toddler daughter. James and Sade had been craving time together for years, but now that they’re forced to spend all their days under one roof, they can’t stop fighting over whether they should try for another child during their indefinite quarantine.
The couple is saddled with one of the biggest groaners in the show, when Sade asks her husband, over a tray of burned biscuits, “Are we toast?” (Ladled with lists of coronavirus symptoms and recommended preventative measures, the dialogue is not a forte here.) But James’ desire to bring new life into this world — which is complicated by his distress at the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and other Black Americans — does represent a novel source of tension for this genre that’s easily the freshest storyline in the series.
Love in the Time of Corona’s other plots are much more rote. James’ mother Nanda (L. Scott Caldwell, the other standout) plans a 50th anniversary party for her nursing-home-resident husband Charlie (Charlie Robinson) that’s unlikely to ever take place, while welcoming home her estranged and recently laid-off son Dedrick (Catero Colbert). Roommates Oscar (Tommy Dorfman), a nonbinary queer stylist flirting with the idea of dating women for a change, and Elle (Rainey Qualley), his best friend, get enmeshed in a love quadrangle despite their destined partners being as obvious as the need to mask up. Finally, a middle-aged couple, Paul and Sarah (Gil Bellows and Rya Kihlstedt), move back in together to hide their legal separation from their histrionic college-student daughter Sophie (Ava Bellows).
Love in the Time of Corona ultimately manages to rouse with its grand romantic gestures, but too much of the preceding material feels unimaginative, expository and dramatically DOA. At a time of such terrifying uncertainty, we deserve much better escapism.
Cast: Leslie Odom, Jr., Nicolette Robinson, Tommy Dorfman, Rainey Qualley, Gil Bellows, Rya Kihlstedt, Ava Bellows, L. Scott Caldwell
Creator: Joanna Johnson
Premieres Saturday, Aug. 22, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Freeform
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