A TV show filmed in a pandemic: a review of Netflix’s Social Distance

Netflix Icon by dolphinsdock is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Netflix Icon” by dolphinsdock is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Elisha V

Lights, endless technical assistants, exotic sets, multimillion-dollar production costs: for Netflix’s Social Distance, a 10-part anthology exploring nuanced COVID-19 lockdown experiences, actors simply filming themselves at home has replaced the flashy film production of the pre-covid world. 


A new type of film production

In April, director Hilary Weisman Graham, most widely known for producing Orange is the New Black, began writing Social Distance. By June, the scripts were finalized, an incredibly short time frame relative to traditional production standards.


Remote filming poses endless new challenges for everyone involved in the production process. COVID-19 restrictions that limited inter-household interaction resulted in a cast in which actors’ relatives or housemates – some of whom had never even acted before – were performing as their on-screen family, too. The cast members not only played the roles of actors, but they also had to learn the basics of film production, including how to set up their own lighting, sound, and set; directors, producers, and tech assisted the actors via zoom. This was just one of the many ways that the making of Social Distance was unprecedented since actors would usually never engage in the behind the scenes of production.


My personal review 

Because Social Distance is an anthology series, which is a collection of unrelated pieces of work under the same theme, each episode sheds light on a completely different character and their unique experience during the pandemic. It’s always important to engage in media that broadens our perspectives, but especially during this era when our own struggles and stresses can consume our thoughts, thinking about other COVID-19 experiences can make us appreciate our personal experience and not take things for granted. The show expands our empathy and understanding of how class, race and age, and the particular privileges and disadvantages associated with those categories, impacts Americans during these *unprecedented* times.


Through the portrayals of virtual support groups, haircuts and funerals, the show highlights something we all know too well by now – Zoom is no substitute for in-person interaction. 


The show also doesn’t overlook the more pressing issues that the pandemic has caused, such as child care. With the rapid shutdown of schools in March, parents, both essential workers and those working from home, scrambled to find last minute child care. 


Albeit cringe at times, Social Distance’s 20 minute episodes (which can be watched in any order) are a relevant and poignant, yet surprisingly comforting, escapist TV show. 


Escapism, which is defined as entertainment consumed to distract and transport us out of our reality, is hard to digest when we know that we can’t escape the restrictions of the pandemic. 


At some point this year, we’ve all internally screamed at our TV screens while watching something where the characters are not wearing masks or distancing. Seeing on-screen characters go about their regular lives and attend crowded events which used to be commonplace in our lives too is frustrating when we don’t know when we’ll get those pre-pandemic activities back. Thus, Social Distance revives the “We’re all in this together” atmosphere that characterized the early days of the pandemic, a positive outlook which we probably all need right now as we head into the winter amid a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases. 


Watch Social Distance on Netflix