Many are still wondering about what kind of film and television work will come out of the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting quarantine; so far, little has impressed. And that includes Netflix’s new anthology series “Social Distance.” Set in the initial months of the pandemic, it’s an eight-part series that, per the press release, “showcases the power of the human spirit in the face of uncertainty and isolation.”
Produced entirely remotely by Jenji Kohan, the creator of “Orange Is the New Black,” the series focuses on how Americans were forced to cope with the early effects of quarantine. Each episode tells a different story. But is it worth watching?
For a number of reasons, it falls short. A television show about life during the pandemic feels too soon — we don’t know how this story ends, because it has yet to end. If the series’ goal is to provide some much-needed relief during these very uncertain times — while also capturing a glimpse of the zeitgeist — it’s unfortunately just tedious. It’s clearly an experiment, but nothing here is particularly groundbreaking. It does not reframe the conversation enough, unless you derive pleasure from self-torment or degradation.
The series is comprised of webcam and smartphone vignettes depicting the lives of various celebs playing fictionalized versions of themselves, in what are aimed to be tales about how to connect during a time of crisis. Just look at Mike Colter chilling happily with his houseplant. I love the guy as an actor, but as the popular social media phrase goes: “This ain’t it, chief.”
One could argue that it’s ahead of its time; returning television series will likely include coronavirus plotlines as they all go back to production, and new shows set during the pandemic are most probably in development. But we’ve already reached the point where what amount to Zoom video compilations just don’t cut it. The series is a demonstration of the problems of reacting to a crisis too hastily.
Each episode of “Social Distance” tries to capture an experience of remoteness because of where we are in the world — having to depend on technology to retain a sense of connection, even as it seems that human connection might be getting destroyed by technology.
To its credit, it does boast a solid and diverse cast including Colter, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Guillermo Diaz, Danielle Brooks, Dylan Baker, Asante Blackk, and others who do much of the heavy lifting, against stark backgrounds to showcase their performances. But nothing here is particularly groundbreaking, or revealing.
It’s an initial step towards an artistic response to this particular moment, but with respect to what lies ahead for television and film — once enough time has passed and folks want to relive all of this on the screen — artists will be able to react in a more profound manner.
“Social Distance” is now streaming on Netflix.