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An Unlikely Debut: COVID-19's Influence on Fall TV

Unless you've literally been living under a rock for the past year, you've been dealing with the harsh realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. With all of the social restrictions, mask wearing, temperature checks and quarantining essentially creating a whole new normal, it's been comforting to hear that some of our favorite shows will indeed be returning with brand new episodes. Personally, I'm pretty sick of binge re-watching programs like New Girl for what's now the third time (actually, I'm lying; that show is just delightful.) As great of a distraction as that's been at times, I've definitely caught myself flinching at the sight of Football being played without masks, people hanging out in crowded clubs and other callous disregard of the rules to which I've become so accustomed. The reality of what's going on begs the question, how will these new seasons address the inescapable issues created by this pandemic, if at all? For some shows, it's pretty simple, but others have struggled to keep up.

Medical television dramas, such as Grey's Anatomy, have easily adapted to the changes that Coronavirus has brought upon society. Grey's has consistently been at the forefront of sensationalism when it comes to medical dramas, but its recent premiere has proven that the show's writers are already taking this pandemic to heart. Fans watched as Meredith Grey and the rest of the staff at Grey Sloan Memorial faced their most formidable challenge yet: COVID-19. Fan-favorite doctors broke down as the mental fatigue of fighting the pandemic took its toll on them, which mirrors the terrifying realities that our healthcare professionals deal with everyday. The premiere was emotional, almost poignant and ended with a huge surprise for all of the show's longtime fans.

While Grey's managed to seamlessly shift its focus to account for what's going on in this uncharted territory, other shows have struggled to do so. As CBS aired its big Fall premieres, some shows seemed to marginalize or ignore the pandemic altogether, aside from the occasional mask wearer. Dick Wolf's FBI and FBI: Most Wanted both ignored much of the pandemic and its impact on everyday life, possibly in an attempt to appealing to its viewers or possibly to just simplify things. Many of these shows' characters didn't wear masks during their respective episodes. While I'm sure that the actors themselves had all been tested or that it's possible these episodes had been filmed prior to the public health crisis, it felt almost irresponsible to ignore current guidelines in such a public fashion. Not only that, but as a viewer, I felt distracted and, quite frankly, uncomfortable by the noticeable lack of masks. While you did see the occasional mask, it just wasn't enough -- and could even make one wonder if the show takes place in an alternate reality where COVID magically doesn't exist.

One particular CBS program did seem to get things right in my book, however. Bull, which stars Michael Weatherly of NCIS fame, has been a personal favorite of mine since its very first season. With a stellar supporting cast, including Hamilton & Moana’s Christopher Jackson, Bull follows the story of Dr. Jason Bull, a trial scientist, and his team of employees. Viewers tune in each week to see the group work to analyze juries and sway the results of court cases in favor of their clients through psychology and data science. The season premiere of Bull began the way everyone else's quarantine did. We saw the team guessing at how long the shutdown would last -- two weeks, maybe three -- as they left the office for the last time.

Viewers watched as Bull struggled to pay his rent, his employees and take care of his own family -- things the American people are far too familiar with at this point. Throughout the episode, Bull struggles to adjust to the new normals of a socially-distanced court, realizing that this new normal could mean the end of his career and life as he once knew it. The episode not only addressed the pandemic, but many of the real fears and emotions that Americans deal with on a daily basis. The episode's ending was poignant and hopeful, ending with the entire cast lip syncing behind the scenes and welcoming fans back.

2020 has certainly been a wild ride and, as COVID cases rise, it's been interesting to see how our entertainment escapes have chosen to reflect what we're facing in the real world. Going forward this television season, fans everywhere will have to get used to these script changes and see how their favorite characters choose to address what's going on in our world.

How has your favorite show addressed COVID? Are you happy with how it's been handled? Tell us about it in the comments below!

- Jules (@JJFromMA)

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