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'Life is depressing enough' | Viewers unsure as TV shows weave COVID-19 into episodes

Social distancing, masks and pandemic problems aren't ignored in most new TV shows. For some, it's frustrating, but there are some advantages.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn — Your favorite TV shows are not ignoring the pandemic. In fact, many are weaving the COVID-19 pandemic into their storylines.

For many people, watching the pandemic play out on screen is frustrating because watching their favorite show is their way to escape the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shows like "This is Us," "Superstore," "Chicago Med" and even Saturday Night Live are putting the pandemic in new episodes.

For Susan Loveday, it can be frustrating to turn on the TV hoping for an escape, but getting the same story as everyday life.

"Life is depressing enough without seeing it on TV and some of our favorite shows, I want it to take me away to something out of my reality basically," Loveday said in a Snapchat to WBIR.

UT School of Journalism and Electronic Media professor Julie Andsager explained that the entertainment world always takes opportunities to educate, but the pandemic brings up some unique challenges.

"You've got to straddle that line between TV shows educating us by showing people social distancing and wearing masks. But at the same time, that kind of adds to the COVID fatigue," Andsager said.

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While it's more natural for medical shows to weave COVID-19 into their episodes, Andsager said it's a little more awkward for others to fit it in. 

Some viewers may find some comfort in seeing characters navigating the same world they are. But for others, it can cause real discomfort.

"Those characters become like our friends almost, and to watch them struggle, or in pain could be a problem for some people," Andsager said.

Comedy shows, like "Saturday Night Live," have to find the balance in making COVID-19 jokes, being aware that people watching may have lost loved ones to the virus.

But, there can be some positives to this pandemic integration. For example, fans will be able to look back during a binge-watch later on when the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

"So by focusing heavily on the pandemic, they're really giving that those shows a kind of like a timestamp," Andsager said.

It's a timestamp we're living in right now, but hopefully, we will be able to turn it off soon.

Experts say not to worry about whether the pandemic themes in shows will stick around permanently. Andsager predicts that as the pandemic starts to die down, so will its mention in TV shows.

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