To COVID or not to COVID? That is the question for our network TV shows.
And it appears that the vast majority of them are answering that question with a resounding yes as they return to the air amidst a new coronavirus surge, after already enduring COVID-related production delays in the illness's first wave.
For TV's medical dramas, the question is a no-brainer. To not deal with COVID-19 in the context of a contemporary doctor show right now would be a gross misjudgment.
It would be like a news organization deciding to take a pass on covering COVID stories because they believe people are tired of hearing about it. Such a decision would be a dereliction of duty.
Maybe people are tired of hearing about it, but nevertheless, a TV medical drama cannot come back on the air this fall and ignore COVID. On the contrary, audiences -- whether they are tired of hearing about COVID or not -- will expect nothing less.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that “The Good Doctor” on ABC will return for its fourth season Monday night (November 2) with its fictional hospital, San Jose St. Bonaventure's, on high COVID alert.
Monday night's COVID premiere is actually only the first part of a two-part, two-hour COVID episode whose second half will air on the following Monday (November 9).
In this week's season opener, the hospital and its staff -- including the show's star doctor, the gifted, autistic savant Sean Murphy M.D. (Freddie Highmore, pictured above) -- are seen coping with their first wave of COVID cases.
The time frame is not identified, but judging from all of our real-life, real-time experiences in the age of COVID this year, the show almost undoubtedly picks up the pandemic story back at its beginning last March.
This is when the first cases of an unusual new illness begin to trickle into St. Bonaventure's that are soon diagnosed as COVID.
We then get to relive the experience of the illness's swift spread in those early weeks, as hospitals became overwhelmed with COVID cases and frontline healthcare workers and administrators coped with shortages of COVID-related supplies and PPE.
And then there were the deaths, of course -- with COVID patients expiring alone in their hospital rooms as visits by loved ones were curtailed and then prohibited.
All of the above is dramatized in the season premiere of “The Good Doctor,” including the stress and pressure that frontline medical personnel experienced in those first days of the COVID pandemic.
On “The Good Doctor,” the hospital and its personnel are portrayed as less than perfect. In some scenes, harried, testy doctors are seen replying curtly to COVID questions from patients and their frightened loved ones.
In one scene, as a patient in his intensive-care hospital bed receives bad news about the ways in which COVID is attacking his vital organs, the loud and decidedly thoughtless sound of Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” is suddenly heard outside the room as hospital staff celebrate another patient's discharge from the hospital after beating COVID.
Viewers who choose to watch “The Good Doctor” can decide for themselves whether they are up to the task of reliving the early weeks of the COVID pandemic.
It is the same dilemma that faces the producers of TV’s contemporary medical dramas. COVID is frightening and, to say the least, unpleasant. But it cannot be ignored.
Season Four of “The Good Doctor” starts Monday (November 2) at 10 p.m. Eastern on ABC.