'Love In The Time Of Corona' Attempts To Mirror Our Lockdown Love Lives

Two HuffPost reporters share their takes on the new scripted Freeform series, which was filmed during the coronavirus quarantine.
Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson
Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson

If all you’re craving these days (aside from actual human touch) is a good romantic comedy about the current moment we’re living through, then “Love in the Time of Corona” is the vice for you.

The four-part Freeform series, produced and shot during the coronavirus quarantine, is an endearing look at the search for intimacy and connection in the era of social distancing. And it’s scripted! Although the show features a few video chat scenes, the actors were actually isolating together in their homes during the shoot.

It stars married couple Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson; Gil Bellows, Rya Kihlstedt and their daughter, Ava Bellows; real-life friends Tommy Dorfman and Rainey Qualley (yes, Margaret’s sister); and L. Scott Caldwell. The show will air four half-hour episodes over two nights on Aug. 22 and 23.

But is it even worth your time? HuffPost reporters Leigh Blickley and Emma Gray share their thoughts.

The Bottom Line

“Love in the Time of Corona” is an impressive, creatively produced, heart-warming take on what love, romance and connection look like during a global pandemic.

The Rundown

Emma Gray: Well, Leigh. It happened. I joked about a month into lockdown that we were going to see a rash of COVID/quarantine-themed romantic comedies come out of this time period. And lo and behold, here we are.

COVID-19 is still raging on, and we are watching a four-part series about what love looks like in a global pandemic on Freeform. And ... I truly didn’t hate it! It was a delight! What were your initial impressions of “Love in the Time of Corona”?

Leigh Blickley: First off, let me just say that the title completely turned me off. Why watch a series about love in the time of coronavirus when I’m literally experiencing love in the time of coronavirus? It felt too real. But then I gave it a go and completely fell for its charm.

Yeah, it’s a little sappy and has some on-the-nose rom-com plot points, but the fact that it was produced, written and filmed amid the pandemic is so impressive that I found myself in awe watching it. What a concept to hire “actor” families and friend groups to shoot the series while following social distancing protocols!

EG: I agree! I was definitely skeptical at first, but even putting plot and watchability aside for a minute, the form alone is impressive, and it provides a really interesting template for one way that new scripted productions could move forward.

As you alluded to, the series was shot completely using remote technologies and set in the actors’ actual homes. (Which, by the way, look very nice.) “Love in the Time of Corona” was produced by Joanna Johnson and Christine Sacani, the team behind “The Fosters” and “Good Trouble,” and Robyn Meisinger of Anonymous Content. I definitely felt like this series existed in the same LA that “Good Trouble” does.

Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson act in front of a robotic camera.
Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson act in front of a robotic camera.

How It Was Filmed Amid Stay-At-Home Orders

EG: In terms of casting, to respect social distancing, they cast actual roommates and actor families. For example, Leslie Odom Jr. (ya know, the guy who wants to be “In The Room Where It Happens” in “Hamilton”) and his real-life wife, Nicolette Robinson, play a millennial couple, James and Sade, deciding whether to have a second child and grappling with the early days of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. (They also served as executive producers.) And Gil Bellows and his wife, Rya Kihlstedt, play a recently separated couple, Paul and Sarah, whose daughter ― played by their actual daughter, Ava Bellows ― comes home from college for quarantine and doesn’t know her parents aren’t together anymore.

The fact that the series mixes real life and fiction worked for me. You could really feel the closeness that these actors felt toward each other. Yes, they’re good at their jobs, but also, they really do love the people they are acting alongside.

How did you feel about the way the series was shot?

LB: I was taken by the creative team’s ability to brainstorm a production like this in the early months of the pandemic, where it seemed like typical Hollywood sets would be closed for months. Tommy Dorfman, who plays Oscar on the series, said the crew set up robotic cameras at the homes of the cast members. And the actors did their own hair and makeup, plus worked out sound and lighting issues themselves. A pretty collaborative and cool feat, if you ask me. And, as you mentioned, you definitely feel that intimacy between these couples because of their real-life relationships and preestablished bonds, yet from a production standpoint, casting them as scene partners is a safe way to shoot.

The team also utilized the virtual aspects of our lives these days, relying on video chats and Zoom calls to connect storylines. For example, James’ mom Nanda is portrayed by L. Scott Caldwell, who not only video chats with her son, but has a virtual dinner with her husband (Charlie Robinson) each night since she can no longer visit him in-person at the nursing home. The inclusion of the technology we’ve now all come to rely on expands the show’s theme of connectedness and is a clever way to both address the current moment and include more talent. What did you think of the cast’s “virtual” appearances?

EG: I absolutely loved that “Love in the Time of Corona” leaned into that instead of shying away from depicting the real, screen-based ways that so many of us communicate now. People are dating and working and eating and mourning over Zoom and Hangouts and FaceTime, so it would be disingenuous to ignore that reality in a show like this one. I was particularly charmed by the all-screen-based budding relationship we see between Oscar and his online date Sean. It captures the promise and limitations of finding new connection while apart, something that so many single adults are facing right now.

What did you think of the storylines depicted in the series? Do you think they felt true to what people were (and are!) dealing with when it comes to love during COVID-19?

Gil Bellows, Ava Bellows and Rya Kihlstedt in a scene from "Love in the Time of Corona."
Gil Bellows, Ava Bellows and Rya Kihlstedt in a scene from "Love in the Time of Corona."

Are The Stories Realistic?

LB: Absolutely. Considering divorce rates are surging during the coronavirus quarantine, it makes sense that the writers decided to include a couple, Paul and Sarah (Bellows and Kihlstedt), accepting their own separation while raising an unaware teenage daughter in isolation. I also teared up a few times imagining how many family members have had to experience Zoom dinner dates like those between Nanda and her ill husband. And, to be honest, my husband and I had the same discussion that James and Sade had about expanding their family ― because when you’re stuck at home with your very cute toddler for months on end, the topic of having even more cute babies is bound to happen.

How about you, Emma? Which storyline stuck out to you?

EG: Like I said ― and as a person who spent nearly a decade dating in a city and utilizing technology to do so ― I really loved seeing the trials and tribulations of Elle (Qualley) and Oscar (Dorfman), BFFs and roommates who both try to find love outside of their apartment ― and find themselves wondering if they should consider turning their co-dependent friendship into something more romantic. It felt the most like a traditional rom-com, so as someone who is a sucker for variations on the classic form, this scratched that itch for me.

I also loved that the show highlighted romantic love, but also explored love (and conflict) between parents and children, and between friends, like when we see Sade video-chatting with her best friend, or Nanda working through her fractured relationship with one of her sons who comes to stay in her guest house after he loses his job.

Tommy Dorfman and Rainey Qualley play friends grappling with their platonic relationship.
Tommy Dorfman and Rainey Qualley play friends grappling with their platonic relationship.

Highs And Lows

EG: My only critique is that the storylines all focused on economically secure, upper-class people. (Elle and Oscar’s opulent condo feels particularly absurd for two young people whose careers are just beginning.) The people hit hardest in this pandemic ― working-class people of color ― were largely absent. Part of this feels inevitable if they were filming in the homes of successful actors in Los Angeles. But it definitely felt notable.

Was there anything else that you loved? Or anything else that didn’t land for you?

LB: Couldn’t agree more on the wealth disparity. What does quarantine look like elsewhere? It would have been nice to see people from all over the country rather than just the Los Angeles area. Of course, I understand the production was probably difficult enough to complete without multiple locations, but it would have been interesting to see a New York couple or family, for instance.

I also think it could have just been a movie? I see what Freeform is going for in terms of getting a desperate-for-new-content audience to tune in for a two-night event, but four 30-minute episodes equal one fully-formed film, in my opinion!

EG: Totally agree. What I was thrilled to see was a grappling with how the pandemic led right into the latest iteration of the civil rights movement by way of Sade and James. James sees the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s killing, which he spends most of the series processing, both with his wife and his mother ― the two Black women closest to him. The series dives a little bit into what it means to be a Black American, watching a virus ravage Black and brown communities and, at the same time, watching white civilians and police officers murder Black people with little consequence.

Overall, “Love in the Time of Corona” is a sweet watch that at least attempts to delve below the surface into the social issues that intersect with COVID-19.

So, Should You Watch It?

LB: What else is there to watch these days??? But in all seriousness, it’s a great weekend view that takes the many situations we’ve all been living through and makes them, well, digestible. And it’s entertaining. Plus, c’mon, who doesn’t love a good coronavirus love story?

EG: If you’re a sucker for sweet things in a pretty sour time, eat this quarantine candy right up.

“Love in the Time of Corona” airs over two nights ― Aug. 22 and Aug. 23 ― at 8 p.m. on Freeform.

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