Love In The Time Of Corona (the title is a nod to the novel Love In The Time Of Cholera) is a four-part rom-com that was shot with COVID protocols in place. All of the actors already live together, either as families or roommates. As the show’s behind the scenes featurette illustrates, family members were recruited to aid the production staff that was stationed at a distance from the actors, outside of their homes. If you’re curious to see how shows are going to go back into production before there’s a vaccine, this show is a good example of how it will be done.
Opening Shot: A wife prepares her husband to go out shopping, early during the coronavirus quarantine. He’s just happy to get out of the house, despite covering his entire body, wearing a bandanna over his face and donning goggles.
The Gist: James (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Sade (Nicolette Robinson) have been home for the last few weeks after the coronavirus lockdown. They have a three-year-old daughter, and Sade has been bearing the brunt of caring for her alone, as James has been away from home producing films. But now, in quarantine, a thought pops up in James’ head: Why don’t they have another baby? Sade at first refuses, because she wants to concentrate on her career. But after thinking about it, and after some SameTime calls with her best friend, she starts to change her mind. What better time to have a kid then when you’re not going anywhere?
Meanwhile, roomies and best friends Oscar (Tommy Dorfman) and Elle (Rainey Qualley) are getting restless; both are going on Zoom dates and finding them lacking. However, they’re both riveted by their downstairs neighbor Adam (Emilio Garcia-Sanchez), who always uses the outdoor shower. But when Elle looks over Oscar’s dating profile, she notices that he’s interested in having sex with both men and women; this puts the idea in her head that her best friend can be more, and not just a fallback if they don’t find anyone.
Paul (Gil Bellows) and Sarah (Rya Kihlstedt) are reluctantly getting ready to welcome the boyfriend of their daughter Sophie (Ava Bellows) into their bubble, but he dumps her right before that happens, claiming she’s too “intense.” It doesn’t seem like a good time for Paul and Sophie to tell their daughter that they’re separated, especially when the college-age Sophie asks to sleep with the two of them that night.
James talks to his mother Nanda (L. Scott Caldwell), and wants to make sure that his brother, who has “been social distancing from the family for a long time”, but Nanda has her own worries. She’s getting ready to celebrate her 50th anniversary with her husband Charles (Charles Robinson), and she’s confident that what the California health officials are saying, that it’ll be safe to have gatherings by May. But she and Charles aren’t together; he’s in a nursing home, and she can’t visit because of COVID. They have dinner via FaceTime together, and she’s reminded that he’s there because his memory is failing.
Our Take: When you get an idea of what executive producer Joanna Johnson (The Fosters) had to go through in order to make a quarantine miniseries that didn’t consist of people talking in Zoom boxes, then your estimation of Love In The Time Of Corona goes way up (Odom and Robinson are also among the show’s EPs). Unlike the show’s British counterpart, Isolation Stories, Johnson tries to blend four stories into more of a traditional series narrative. The connections between all the groups are tenuous if they’re there at all, but at least the show has the feel of an actual Freeform series instead of an experiment.
The stories aren’t all that complicated — James and Sade will be on different pages about whether to have a child, especially after George Floyd is murdered, Oscar and Elle will reconfigure their friendship, Paul and Sarah will rekindle their marriage, Nanda will try to help her wayward son reconnect with his family. But the fact that these love stories are happening in extraordinary times makes them all the more poignant and fun to watch. Sure, this is Hallmark-movie-level stuff, but it’s also a comfort to watch people dealing with their immediate world as the world around them goes sideways.
One of the more clever takes on quarantine that Johnson added to the stories is that this is taking place during the early stages of the pandemic, when we were all naively hopeful that things would get back to normal by late spring or summer. There’s more than one reference to “people saying” it’ll only be a couple of weeks of lockdown or a couple of months. Sure, it could be a function of when the series was shot, but it feels like those lines are there on purpose as a meta-reference. Whether intended or not, those lines seem so ridiculously silly in retrospect, they generate some of the more knowing chuckles in the first couple of episodes.
The performances are all great, but it doesn’t hurt that the families are real families, perhaps with some of the couples acting opposite each other for the first time. But the idea of chemistry is no problem; you can believe Odom and Robinson are young parents still hot for each other because they’re likely that way in real life. Bellows and Kihlstedt act like a couple who have been married for 26 years, because they are in real life.
Sex and Skin: Besides the neighbor taking outside showers? Nothing. Any sex is basic-cable-friendly.
Parting Shot: Oscar, excited that his crashing Zoom date took a turn for the better, tells Elle, whose date actually crashed and burned. She’s sorting out her feelings for Oscar, and isn’t as happy for him as she should.
Sleeper Star: L. Scott Caldwell’s optimistic but realistic role as Nanda was the most compelling, because she is desperate to see her husband, but can’t because of where he is. It’s heartbreaking, but she soldiers on.
Most Pilot-y Line: Elle’s Zoom date rattles on and on about the “cinematic masterpieces” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then asks to see Elle’s boobs. Well, that last thing came out of left field. Is that how Zoom dates go, you young’uns?
Our Call: STREAM IT. Love In The Time Of Corona isn’t telling any stories that’ll blow you away, but the couples have understandable chemistry, and the production values are surprisingly high, given the restrictions the producers and crew were under.
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, VanityFair.com, Playboy.com, Fast Company.com, RollingStone.com, Billboard and elsewhere.