David Hare does not take the rejection quietly. When the BBC turned down the playwright’s television series Beat the devil, a monologue about his experience of being gravely ill with Covid-19, which was staged in theater last year with Ralph Fiennes, he went on the offensive.
“Everyone is absolutely convinced that no one wants to know anything about Covid-19,” he told an interviewer. “If you talk to people at the BBC, for example, they’ll just say, ‘Oh, give me a drama on something other than Covid – people don’t care about Covid. “There is … no proof for that.
It was a gripping story. When I am rejected, I try not to make a fuss, preferring to wallow in corrosive self-pity. But each to his own moan.
While the BBC’s position may seem like a polite excuse (it’s not you, David, it’s fashionable!), The reasoning is correct. Phil Edgar-Jones, director of Sky Arts, told me there was potential for “creative torpor” at the start of the pandemic. “We got a lot of lockdown programs – I felt it looked tired as we spent a lot of time on Zoom and didn’t want to watch it on TV.” Jamie Demetriou, creator and comedy star Stath rents apartments, says he does not want to be “flattened by the news”. . . It’s good not to feel like you have to reflect the time exactly. Television is an escape.
Bo Burnham’s Netflix Special Inside, and Staging, which showed actors David Tennant and Michael Sheen communicating via video on a closed theatrical production, were the coronavirus-themed exceptions that prove the rule. Others (Netflix Home made) fall flat.
Some of the pandemic’s biggest TV hits have been dream moss, like Regency-era romance Bridgerton, or a calming comedy like Ted lasso, the story of an American football coach brought to the UK to motivate a professional football team with his hokey charm. One reviewer described Lasso as the apotheosis of the passage of comedy “from irony to sincerity”. There was another kind of solace to be found in the dramas which showed that all was not well in a 1% paradise, literally in White lotus but also in the glossy thriller The defeat and the most recent season of Successiondepiction of the dysfunctional family of media moguls.
One of the major trends in pandemic television was not about the coronavirus but about public and community participation. Grayson Art Club, hosted by Turner Prize-winning ceramist Grayson Perry, defined themes that viewers can create and then submit for inclusion on the show and in an exhibit, as well as Sky’s Portrait Artist of the Year, who added a celebrity babysitter for those at home to recreate.
Still, I feel a change. Hare may have complained that the BBC wouldn’t be taking her drama, but she quickly found a home at Sky Arts. The drama, To help, starring Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham, was a reminder of the chaos and savage neglect of the government’s attitude towards nursing homes. It was also a success, with an unprecedented number of views in its first week on the Channel 4 streaming service.
When is the right time to remember everything that has happened over the past year and a half is a thorny question, which tends to fall somewhere between too early and too late. As life recovers some of its pre-pandemic rhythms, I find myself searching for stories from the early days of the lockdown, feeling baffled as I pick up on old routines as case rates remain high.
A friend complained of a feeling of unreality. “We were told to be afraid for our lives, and now we are being told, ‘Carry on as usual.” The desire to see the pandemic reflected in culture did not spring from twisted nostalgia for containment. Watch reporters and producers familiarize themselves with early coverage of the coronavirus on The morning show, a drama about American newscasters, is proof of this.
Jonny Geller, managing director of the literary and arts agency Curtis Brown Group, told me that in fiction there had been “an aversion to anything that mentioned the pandemic, but now it feels like an embarrassing absence.” I’ve read so many that end in 2019 or plan ahead. The pandemic [and] blockages are mentioned in passing, if at all. Now publishers will rush to fill the void. . . I believe we are ready for our reality to be reflected to us. ”
Geller predicts a rise in fiction that deals with the emotional impact of 2020 and that we’ll be ready to read it soon. Gary Shteyngart Our country friends, about characters isolated from a deadly virus, will put that to the test next month.
At the start of the pandemic, I interviewed grief counselor and author Julia Samuels. “Fuckin ‘hell, fuckin’ hell,” she said as we went into lockdown. I called her recently and she spoke of clients who shared my bewilderment. “Art and stories help us connect with each other and manage our emotions,” she said. Culture is not therapy but it helps make sense of the world.