Pandemic-themed series have been popping up around broadcast and cable, and they’re all miracles of good TV writing, dedication on the part of the actors to shoot their own scenes, and technology that brings everything together remotely. We tend to just be impressed if the show can look and feel like something we would have watched in the Before Times. But, when a show actually comes together with a cohesive ensemble, it’s almost miraculous. Connecting… is a new remote-produced ensemble sitcom that takes seven friends through different stages of this pandemic. Does it pull off that miracle?
Opening Shot: “This Episode Takes Place On March 29th, 2020,” shouts a graphic, then we see early news reports about the coronavirus pandemic.
The Gist: Connecting… is a remotely-produced sitcom where seven friends stay connected via various stages of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, with most scenes shot in the style of a Zoom-style video chat. The first episode takes place only a couple of weeks into the lockdowns, and everyone is already stir-crazy.
First, Annie (Otmara Marrero) gets on — her background is the Cheers bar — with Ben (Preacher Lawson). She wants to ask Ben, who just broke up with his girlfriend, to move in with her, but she just can’t bring herself to do it.
Then the rest of the gang gets on. Pradeep (Parvesh Cheena) is hiding in his closet from his kids, not used to being at home with them 24/7 (his husband is the primary caregiver). Ellis (Shakina Nayfack) laments the fact that sports have been cancelled; she’s a huge Clippers fan and thought that this was finally their year. Rufus (Ely Henry) shows up in his bunker-esque attic space wearing a gas mask, touting the “evidence” from the “CDZ” that everyone should wear masks in their own house. And Garret (Keith Powell) and his wife Michelle (Jill Knox) — who is also Ben’s sister — are reluctant to admit that they’re loving quarantine because they’re learning how to make fun food and doing things around the house.
They’re wondering how their friend Jazmin (Cassie Beck), a doctor on the COVID front lines in New York, is doing; Jazmin finally comes on the chat near the end and expresses how desperate things are getting, given the fact that they have to ration PPE and her colleagues are getting sick and she has to decide who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Connecting… is similar to all of the other remotely-produced, COVID-themed shows that have been out so far, from Isolation Stories to Love In The Time Of Corona. We’re guessing it’ll be similar to Netflix’s anthology Social Distance.
Our Take: We have to give Martin Gero and Brendan Gall credit for creating a well-oiled ensemble for Connecting… considering that the show is produced remotely and each actor is doing their work from their own homes. Some b-roll is shot from inside the actors’ homes, it seems like the majority of the scenes are in the video chat format.
We’re not trying to question how all of these people know each other and managed to get together for weekly drinks pre-pandemic. Maybe they worked together at one time or lived in an apartment complex with a pool and a courtyard (no, that was Melrose Place). It feels like, besides the fact that Ben and Michelle are siblings, most of the rest of the group wouldn’t travel in the same circles. We’re especially wondering how they all know and like the conspiracy-theory-spewing Rufus; it doesn’t feel like he comes out of his bunker for anything.
Those kinds of questions would be more appropriate for a more traditional sitcom. The fact that this group has such good chemistry with each other despite not being in the same room, and the fact that Gero and Gall are able to craft story arcs as we go through the pandemic is almost miraculous. We genuinely laughed many times through the three episodes NBC sent for review, sometimes out of recognition of what these characters were going through during different stages of the pandemic.
We also appreciate the “nostalgia” factor of the show, if we can call it that, reminding us how we all felt at the beginning of this thing. Even though it was only seven months ago it feels like seven years ago, so recognizing how things changed as the quarantine has extended will be a big plot driver. It’s especially funny to see everyone’s resolve breaking in episode 3, when Garret tries to plan a trip to Big Bear, but everyone has somehow broken his strict quarantining rules that will make sure everyone can hang together in person for the first time in months.
The “will-they/won’t-they” plot with Annie and Ben might get tiresome after awhile, but it drives the plot in the early going, and it’s nice to see a comfortable sitcom trope can work in this format.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: We see everyone full-screen, laughing, crying and otherwise enjoying this connection with their friends, even if it is via their laptops and phones.
Sleeper Star: Shakina Nayfack’s Ellis is a character that deserves her own sitcom; she acknowledges how tough it is to lose her job when she needs to be on hormones all the time, all while she bemoans the Clippers’ fate.
Most Pilot-y Line: It feels like Ben and Annie kind of know Cheers, but kind of don’t. Their exchange about the show feels like something writers would put in their characters’ mouths instead of two millennials who have caught up on the show via streaming and are truly fans.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Connecting… is a fun ensemble comedy that will fill a gap until NBC’s fall shows premiere. Will it run for years and years? No. But considering the hoops it took to produce, it’s remarkably well-done.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
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