How Are Medical Dramas Tackling the Pandemic?

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The pandemic has undoubtedly had large effects on the entertainment industry, and while some venues like cinemas have been at a halt, binge-watching series has been an activity getting many people through seemingly endless lockdowns. Whereas many TV shows can offer escapism from reality, many medical drama showrunners have felt a moral responsibility to portray the pandemic, its effects on the healthcare system, and honour healthcare workers. Although the inclusion of the Covid-19 pandemic in medical TV dramas was bound to happen, these shows have still chosen to tackle it in different ways.

Shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Chicago Med chose to place themselves in the middle of the pandemic, showing its effects on patients and doctors. Grey’s Anatomy, perhaps the biggest medical drama there is, has so far let its entire 17th season revolve around the pandemic. Many of the season’s patients are Covid patients, and the series also shows some central characters being admitted with the virus, some even needing a ventilator. There is rarely a moment to forget about the pandemic, with doctors wearing full protective gear, and all patients wearing masks. We also see the personal effects on the series’ doctors, with doctors living apart from their loved ones, family members passing away from the virus, and the mental health strain on healthcare workers during the pandemic.

While Chicago Med season 6 also places itself in the midst of the pandemic, it focuses more on the Covid-negative patients in the ED than its Covid floor. Whereas Grey’s Anatomy sees some of its doctors be admitted with the virus, and many doctors struggling to cope, Chicago Med has so far only seen one main character contract the virus, who recovered quickly and early in the season. There is some exploration of the effects on the healthcare workers, and we do see the protocol of testing and air showers before entering the ED, but the show still focuses mostly on cases not related to the virus, and the doctors’ personal lives seem less affected by the virus than in Grey’s Anatomy.

Although most shows have in some way addressed the pandemic, and its effects on hospitals and healthcare workers, some shows, such as The Good Doctor and New Amsterdam, choose to jump to a post-pandemic time. These shows give less of their time to the pandemic but strive to create a sense of hope for the future. The Good Doctor opens its fourth season with two episodes addressing the pandemic, before jumping to a future after the pandemic. The first two episodes of The Good Doctor do a great job in portraying the severity of the pandemic, with patients and a nurse passing away from the virus, while also showing the strain the pandemic has put on the healthcare workers. Although jumping quickly to a pandemic-free future means the show doesn’t explore the pandemic to the same extent as shows like Grey’s Anatomy, this time jump allows the show to convey a sense of hope to the audience. Many people watch TV series as escapism, and this allows for an escape from reality while also conveying positivity and hope for the future.

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