It’s the kind of challenge writers and actors should savor: Create stories about isolation … filmed under isolated conditions.
There have already been some interesting ones, crafted during the COVID slowdown – episodes of “All Rise” and “Mythic Quest,” a reunion of “Parks and Recreation,” a British hour called “Isolation Stories.” Coming (Sept. 12 on HBO) is “Coastal Elites,” with playwright Paul Rudnick giving monologs to Sarah Paulson, Bette Midler, Dan Levy, Issa Rae and Kaitlyn Dever.
But before that, Freeform gets a chance. “Love in the Time of Corona” (shown here) is Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 22-23, then rerunning Monday, juggling four slightly related stories. It’s a tad predictable, but skillfully written and acted. It’s also optimistic; you could say it’s very American … or maybe very Californian.
Compare it to “Isolation Stories,” which was shot in London. Both were filmed in the actors’ homes, putting real family members (or, in one case, friends living in the same “bubble”) together.
But for “Isolation Stories,” those were mostly city apartments that felt dark and confining. There was little sense of an outside world or of hope; the stories reflected that.
“Love” was shot in three homes – light, spacious, airy – and one apartment (shown here with Qualey), a big one with lots of windows and a balcony. You could sense California sunshine nearby. There, we saw:
– Leslie Odom Jr. and his wife (Nicolette Robinson), playing a married couple. They’re teetering on the idea of having a second child.
– Gil Bellows and his wife, Rya Kihlstedt, with their daughter Ava Bellows. She’s returning home for the lockdown, unaware that they have a secret.
– Tommy Dorfman and Rainey Qualey, who in real life are friends who live in the same “bubble.” He plays Oscar, who’s gay, but maybe a tad bi; she’s Elle, who wonders if they couldn’t be a couple.
– L. Scott Caldwell as a retired teacher, planning her 50th wedding anniversary. She chats with one son (Odom) by video and another (played by Catero Colbert, Caldwell’s godson) in person.
Those videochats are important: Dorfman and Qualey both try videodating … others chat with friends and a lover … and in moving scenes, Caldwell has a nightly video meal with her husband (played by Charlie Robinson), who is confined – temporarily, they hope – to a nursing home.
The show also has one other sort of distant relationship: Both Dorfman and Qualey lust for the hunky chap (Emilio Garcia-Sanchez) who showers outside a nearby, first-floor apartment. What follows has the feeling of the Romeo-and-Juliet balcony scenes.
This is in the wheelhouse of Joanna Johnson, the show’s writer and producer. In her Freeform series (“Good Company” and, previously, “The Fosters”), she has complicated romances, gay and straight, and topical subjects – usually faced by attractive and optimistic people in pretty settings.
This time, you can complain that the stories are too predictable; when they veer into a complication, it seems arbitrary, just to keep the story going. At one point, Odom begins saying exactly the opposite of what he’d said earlier. “That’s a total 180,” one person says while viewers nod.
Mostly, though, these are good stories with skilled actors. The art of isolation TV has edged forward.
– “Love in the Time of Corona,” told in four chapters on Freeform
– Saturday (Aug. 22), 8 p.m. and 8:37-9:15 p.m.; Sunday, 8 p.m. and 8:40 to 9:25.
– On Monday (Aug. 24), the four parts rerun from 8:15 to 11 p.m.