TV Writer Bethany Sherrott deliberates on Grey’s Anatomy’s decision to mention Coronavirus, asking whether the public is ready to see the virus dramatized

Written by Bethany Sherrott
Last updated
Images by SJ Obijo

On the 29th of October, the trailer for the Michael Bay-produced movie Songbird was released. Set five years after the outbreak of Covid-19, the disease has mutated into Covid-23 and over 100 million people have died. Society has shifted into permanent lockdown, and if you become infected you are forced into quarantine camps.

It did not exactly receive a warm reception. It trended on Twitter for all the wrong reasons. Most responses labelling the film unnecessary and that it was glamorizing very real suffering that is still a part of day to day life. It is clear the world is not yet ready to see this particular set of fears dramatised for the cinema screen.

It is clear the world is not yet ready to see this particular set of fears dramatised for the cinema screen.

But what about Grey’s Anatomy? The hit US Medical Drama will certainly take a more grounded approach, particularly as it will be set in the past. Grey’s Anatomy has certainly not strayed away from real-life scenarios in the past. Seattle-Grace has been the site of a mass shooting, and Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) herself has gone to prison for treating a child without proper medical insurance in the middle of a season-long arc about the Health Care System in the US. But is it simply too soon for them to tackle Coronavirus? Whether the public thinks it is or not, it is coming.

The first episode of season 17 aired in the US on November 12th, and, whilst a completely different plot twist (which I won’t reveal) wowed fans, the response to the Covid-19 plotline seems to be positiveGrey’s Anatomy is doing what it does best, honouring and highlighting the bravery and sacrifice of the doctors at the frontline of the pandemic.

Is it simply too soon for them to tackle Coronavirus?

In October, executive producer Krista Vernoff revealed in a panel for the Television Academy that they would cover Coronavirus. How could one of the most successful medical programmes of all time ‘not do the medical story of our lifetime’? It was perhaps inevitable that it would play a central role in the show. With season 17 rumoured to be the last, there is certainly pressure for it to go out with a bang. So far, the US reaction has been extremely positive, but British viewers will have to wait until 2021 to see exactly what plays out.

Despite British television putting on the appearance of going on as normal, the pandemic’s presence is still felt in shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and the upcoming I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. With the latter moving from the Australian jungle to a Castle in North Wales, the difference in the show will be stark, and the former has had to remove groundbreaking same-sex dance partnership Nicola Adams and Katya Jones after Jones tested positive for Coronavirus.

The difference in response to Songbird and Grey’s Anatomy highlight what the public is ready to deal with when it comes to depictions of Covid-19 on our screens. We’re ready to accept it for what it is, but imagining an apocalyptic future is not what we need just yet. But with both seeing mass engagement from fans and critics, we can certainly assume that this is only the beginning of seeing fiction tackle Coronavirus.

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