Home Art & Culture BBC’s ‘Pandemonium’ and Covid-19: Are We Ready to Laugh About the Virus?

BBC’s ‘Pandemonium’ and Covid-19: Are We Ready to Laugh About the Virus?

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“By then, it felt like this huge political and social issue that we had to tackle,” he said in a recent interview. “We just needed to find a way to do it that was both cathartic and inoffensive.”

Selling Mr. Basden on a Covid rewrite was easy.

“I realized that there was a version of the story, which is about a California holiday not being taken because of coronavirus, that felt interesting to me,” Mr. Basden said. “I felt it had the potential to sum up the year for a lot of families in terms of what their experience has been, with all of the various disappointments along the way.”

Whether Britons need a “cov-com,” as Mr. Allen dubbed the show, remains to be seen. Viewers may prefer to watch anything but a reflection of what they have just lived through. If you’re looking for pure escapism, a show in which a doctor on television is heard intoning, “Stay inside, wash your hands, follow the guidelines,” isn’t for you. Alternatively, the show could turn the ordeals imposed by Covid into bittersweet entertainment by demonstrating just how universal their effect has been.

The show starts at a moment that now feels like eight years ago — namely, early 2020. The Jessups are booking their flights to California and Paul decides not to spend another $30 or so per ticket for refundable fares.

“We’re not going to cancel,” he tells his wife. “That’s just a scam to make idiots pay more money.”

The upbeat mood evaporates as the virus arrives. It shuts down Paul’s archery club, rendering him jobless. Robin, Mr. Basden’s character, is jilted by a woman who leaves him for her personal trainer. Now-familiar tensions and debates surface. At first, Paul’s mother, Sue, won’t take the virus seriously, exasperating her son. She also refuses to join in nationwide applause for National Health Service workers on Thursday nights.

“Clapping?” she asks Paul, outraged at the thought. “After they cancel my hip replacement? Are you mad? I’m the only one on my street booing.”

There are jokes that would fly over the heads of an American audience, like a reference to Dominic Cummings, the since-dismissed adviser to Boris Johnson, who made headlines by flouting lockdown rules. Other bits suggest that the United States still has substantial cultural heft here. When Paul tries to convince his daughter, Amy (Freya Parks), that he is woke, he proves it by noting that he read and loved Michelle Obama’s book.

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