‘Station Eleven’ is a post-apocalyptic show, but it’s not all dark

It’s not lost on showrunner Patrick Somerville that his post-apocalyptic drama “Station Eleven” debuted just as omicron, the latest variant of the coronavirus, began to tour the world.

The HBO series Max, based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Emily St. John Mandel, follows survivors of a devastating flu as they attempt to rebuild themselves while facing what they have lost.

Although the series began filming before the pandemic turned everyone’s lives upside down, the parallels are hard to ignore. There are scenes in an overrun hospital, characters who feel anxious when they hear a cough and, of course, the ever-present feeling of not knowing what to expect.

“Our experience has been very strange since January 2020,” Somerville said. “It’s like Covid is watching us.”

But “Station Eleven”, produced by Paramount Television Studios, is not like other movies or shows that have similar premises, such as “Contagion.” On the one hand, the darkness is often softened by moments of warmth and hope.

Jessica Rhoades, executive producer of “Station Eleven,” said that while she wasn’t generally a fan of the post-apocalyptic genre, she was drawn to the warmth of the show and the book.

And “to the people, to the community and to the art,” she said, referring to the drama group at the center of the series, which travels through what is left of the United States to perform for the survivors. of the pandemic.

“These are the things the book and the series are about. Not the fight for civilization, but what life is, ”she said.

But Rhoades said it’s clear some people prefer “the thrill” that comes with such a premise.

“There is a science behind the thrill,” she said. “The release of adrenaline due to fear of death is very high. Most human beings have stress levels associated with this same fear which equates adrenaline being a good feeling but, like some people, just like a horror movie. That’s a top. ”

Nate Matteson, another executive producer, said there was “joy” in the series.

“This intention of joy was there before Covid when we were set up to do it,” he said. “I think our job as filmmakers and everyone as a cast and crew as well as our studio and network partners was to continue to find joy as we go.”

I think our job … was to continue to find joy as we went.

Nate Matteson, executive producer of “Station Eleven”

As the world enters this some have called Pandemic Life ‘Season Three’, Hollywood creatives have had to figure out whether their shows and movies embrace the pandemic or erase it.

“We each do differently and every day is different,” said Chrysalis Wright, director of the Media & Migration Lab at the University of Central Florida. “Maybe one day has been particularly stressful, so escaping is what it takes. Other days we may need validation for our experiences. Providing a variety of content to consumers will not help. only people to cope with what happened to them that day, but will also provide a way to help consumers cope with trauma.

In some shows, like the reboot of “Sex and the City”, “And Just Like That …”, the pandemic appears more subtly, in the improvised comments of the main characters.

Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) is referring to the pandemic, without naming it, as it appears onscreen. After a group of patrons pushes her aside in a restaurant, Carrie asks, “Remember when we had to legally stand 6 feet apart?”

Meanwhile, in “Grey’s Anatomy,” which is set in a hospital, the pandemic has become central to the storyline for the season.

“This pandemic is breaking people, it is breaking doctors, and we have the opportunity to help cut costs to the medical community,” said showrunner Krista Vernoff. tell EW about season 17.

Other shows, including Netflix’s “Emily in Paris,” which debuted its second season on Thursday, ignore the existence of the pandemic.

“Season 1 allowed us to escape when it came out that she felt it was something that had to go on – not approaching it because it brings a sense of escape, joy and laughter to one. when we need it most “, star Lily Collins says Variety about the red carpet premiere of season two of the show.

One approach isn’t necessarily better than another, Wright said.

Consumers need to see their experiences onscreen and have a way to escape, even if only for a short time.

Chrysalis Wright, University of Central Florida MEDIA AND MIGRATION LAB

“Diversity is what we need,” said Wright. “However it is described, consumers need to see their experiences on screen and have a way to escape, even if it is only for a short time. It is also necessary to incorporate humor into the mixture.

Hollywood can – and should – include diversity in how it describes the pandemic, Wright said, for example by showing how it has affected cities versus rural and suburban communities and how it has played out differently for many. Black Americans versus people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds. .

“Covid-19 has taken something from all of us,” Wright said. “There are many ways to tell the story of the pandemic due to the diversity of experiences. We’re all going through this together, but we’re on different journeys. “

Matteson said we all tend to “look into stories to help us organize our own experiences.”

“We’ve always been doing it,” he said. “To me, it’s not that surprising that people look to these movies… or our TV show… to help them organize what they’re going through.”

Still, the creatives behind “Station Eleven” know that not everyone can handle the show right now. And that’s OK.

Mackenzie Davis in “Station Eleven,” which tells the stories of survivors of a devastating flu.Ian Watson / HBO Max

But Somerville said he wanted people to know they are “safe watching the show.” He described it as funny, even.

“We do it in a trauma-aware way,” he said. “We are not telling a story that seeks to exploit the pain but tries to help healing a little.”

There is a line in episode two in which the conductor of the Traveling Symphony explains what the troupe is trying to accomplish.

“We travel for a reason,” says the driver. “We’re burning the house, then go!” Just try to make sense of the world for a minute. “

Somerville said that’s also what the show tries to do: make sense of everything, if only for a brief period.

“The tragedy of a global pandemic is like a tidal wave,” he said. “No story can make this wrong. But I think hopefully if we do it right…

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