You have to appreciate when a pandemic can inspire a series of, essentially, single-actor stories as this did for David Weil. Tackling the concept of isolation and humanity from various perspectives (while avoiding the obvious) and getting such top-notch talent to deliver it is really a coup. And watching some of the actors get to deliver multiple characters in meaningful ways is an extra treat. As an added bonus, to my mind, what he created is some solid, original genre fiction.
Each 30 minute story is rich with personal struggles and interesting worlds. Or world, is probably much more accurate. Like Tales From the Loop, they are loosely connected, building up a bigger picture stretching over time.
To be honest, they aren’t all perfect. A 30 minute near-monologue is hard (unless you’re Tilda Swinton). They aren’t easy to write believably either, though the stories provide some clever ways around the normal pitfalls. If you haven’t spun it up yet, I definitely recommend this series. What follows is some short, more specific thoughts on the various episodes. But even when I’m rather critical, I enjoyed them all in different ways.
Anne Hathaway (Locked Down) is amusing, and the set up nice, but the story falls flat emotionally. It’s just a little too forced, and ultimately a little too obvious. That doesn’t make it uninteresting, but it lacked a certain subtlety and sympathy so we could care about the ending.
Anthony Mackie (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier) is everywhere these days, and with good reason. He has great emotional range, but is still superhero material. While the overall story and performances here are solid, I do feel like the cadence of it is just a little off. It repeats its rhythm once too often as Mackie recounts his situation, helped by a dollop of overly sweet and manipulative music that’s too present to ignore. But the differentiation between his two selves is wonderful. And the choice to not fully explain everything is perfect.
The great Helen Mirren (The Good Liar) exposes her soul as she banters with the disembodied Dan Stevens (Earwig and the Witch). Without moving from her seat, she spins out a world of visuals in our minds and builds out a story that grips us and makes us laugh along with her. Talk about the power of the voice and subtle facial expressions.
This is the most on-the-nose pandemic tale. It is an exhausting mix of fear and left-wing analog to Fox news-itis. Uzo Aduba (3Below: Tales of Arcadia) is energy incarnate and tragic in practice.
Constance Wu (Hustlers) delivers perhaps the funniest performance of the anthology, giving it even more of a punch as it turns. It is also the least real-time tale, being heavily edited to compress and keep the energy up as well as to provide a particular sensibility to echo the character and the situation.
Every anthology has a story that falls short, and this one is it. It isn’t compelling and it is scientifically and emotionally lacking in logic. All this despite an excellent effort by Nicole Beharie (My Last Day Without You) to make sense of it all with her powerful delivery. But that performance can’t really save the episode as a story.
As a finale we get the voice of god, Morgan Freeman (Nutcracker and the Four Realms) and a reprise, of sorts, by Dan Stevens (Earwig and the Witch) to help pull it all together. It doesn’t quite make a package of it all, but it ultimately provides a scaffolding for the collection if you squint. But, beyond that, you do get to see Freeman bring the script to life with subtle voice and considered reactions. It’s a bitter-sweet wrap-up, but that’s what you’d expect from this kind of show. And the journey and performances were certainly worth it.