Finding the comedy in any collective tragedy is a daunting task for entertainers. But bringing levity to an ongoing global pandemic that has claimed more than 200,000 U.S. lives and kept Americans in quarantine for six months and counting?
Well, that was a Barnum and Bailey-level tightrope walk for the producers of NBC’s Connecting — but it was also a challenge they were eager to face.
“The way many of us deal with uncomfortable and painful situations is with humor,” executive producer Martin Gero (who’s coming off the recently concluded Blindspot) tells TVLine. “That duality of comedy and pain is inside us in a pretty ingrained way already. It was just about finding that balance and making sure the show never got too dark, but also never got too light.”
Connecting — premiering Thursday, Oct. 8 at 8/7c — follows a group of friends who, like many in 2020, have been forced to spend time together remotely as the coronavirus sends America into lockdown. The season opens on March 29, just a few days into those strict stay-at-home orders, and will eventually reach November’s election, with each episode jumping forward in time by a few weeks.
But even though the pandemic is still wreaking havoc around the world, Gero and executive producer Brendan Gall say they didn’t second-guess making a TV show that so closely reflects real life. (Other events that have unfolded during quarantine, including a wave of Black Lives Matter activism, are covered on the show, too.)
“We were definitely conscious that there was a version of this that would feel tone-deaf and wrong, and it was our goal to not do that version,” Gero explains. “But we also need stuff that speaks to the moment we’re in, and people want to feel seen and have those stories resonate. What we’re going through is a lot, and we could use some place to have catharsis. That’s what comedy does so well.”
Adds Gall, “We have these genres of storytelling — drama and comedy and crime and blah blah blah — and that’s not how any of us walk through the world. We don’t get to exist in just one single genre in our lives. That’s what we were embracing.”
Striking the proper tone on Connecting has been just one of many obstacles for the EPs, who are also navigating the unprecedented process of filming a TV show with little human contact. Each actor received a filmmaking kit, which included an iPhone 11 (on which most Connecting scenes are shot), sound equipment and lighting equipment; the crew remotely guides the actors through their own hair and makeup, production design and just about everything else needed to get the shot.
“It’s the closest thing to theater that I’ve done in television” Gero reveals. “It feels like such a communal experience of ‘We’re all in this together,’ and it’s been incredibly powerful to work on at a time when people are feeling so isolated.”
Outside of their partnership on Connecting, Gero and Gall have been friends for 20 years, and their standing Sunday-night Zoom dinners with other close pals during quarantine were the inspiration for the show. That sense of community — and commiseration, perhaps — are what the producers hope to convey, per Gall, in spite of the year’s harrowing events.
“It’s a common knee-jerk response when people say, ‘I don’t know if I want to watch a show about what we’re going through right now,’” Gall admits. “But the second response, that seems to come almost universally, is that once you start to talk about the show and see the show, people really get pulled into it… This show lets you in on this ongoing, evolving conversation about what we’re all going through, which we all need right now.”