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'Social Distance' Will Move Even Cynical Survivors Of Real-Life Lockdowns

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The pandemic has taken a toll on scripted TV and feature films. But today, Netflix releases an eight-episode anthology series called "Social Distance," recreating the all-too-recent real-life lockdowns we all just lived through. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans has been watching.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: It's obvious from the situations and setups in these episodes that the scripts for "Social Distance" were written when pandemic lockdowns were a little more absolute across America. Still, the tensions and tribulations shown in this anthology's eight unconnected vignettes highlight the drama and humor of social isolation in a way I haven't seen any other scripted series yet achieve, like the episode centered on a Latinx family holding a funeral for their patriarch via Zoom. The ceremony begins when the man's rebellious younger son, played by "Scandal" alum Guillermo Diaz, logs on.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SOCIAL DISTANCE")

GUILLERMO DIAZ: (As Santi) Dang, who died?

DAPHNE RUBIN-VEGA: (As Reina) I knew this was a bad idea.

DIAZ: (As Santi) Hey, Uncle Tone (ph). Que pasa? You guys muted Uncle Tony?

RUBIN-VEGA: (As Reina) No.

OSCAR NUNEZ: (As Miguel) He can't figure out the sound.

OLLI HAASKIVI: (As Dean) His generation is having a more difficult time with all this.

DIAZ: (As Santi) That's an understatement.

DEGGANS: Before long, the siblings are fighting. And it takes a passionate speech from their Uncle Tony, played by the always excellent Miguel Sandoval, to get them focused on what really matters.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SOCIAL DISTANCE")

MIGUEL SANDOVAL: (As Tony) Julio Villareal was the love of my life.

GIANNA ARAGON: (As Olivia) Grandpa was gay with his brother?

CAMILA PEREZ: (As Paola) No, dummy. Uncle Tony's not our real uncle. We just call him that.

SANDOVAL: (As Tony) Not being completely open with you guys caused Julio a lot of pain, but we should put that pain to rest today, too.

DEGGANS: Another story I loved centers on an academic named Marion, played by Marsha Stephanie Blake, whose mother is stuck in a nursing home. They have a tough relationship made even touchier because the mother is attached to a breathing tube and communicates by typing words into a computer, begging her daughter for an in-person visit over video chat.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SOCIAL DISTANCE")

AUTOMATED VOICE: (As mother) You need to get over here and visit with me, or why did I shove your big head out my loins? At least drop off my CBD cream so I got something to take my mind off my only thankless child.

(SOUNDBITE OF NOTIFICATION TONE)

MARSHA STEPHANIE BLAKE: (As Marion) Here we go. Look, Mom, I can't help it if I'm tied up with all of this. It's not like I invented coronavirus so that I'd have an excuse to not come visit you, Mom.

DEGGANS: When the nursing home announces that all health care aides must quarantine with their clients, the aide caring for the professor's mother, played by "Orange Is The New Black" alum Danielle Brooks, realizes she has a problem with her daughter.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SOCIAL DISTANCE")

DANIELLE BROOKS: (As nurse aide) I don't have child care.

BLAKE: (As Marion) What do you mean? Who's watching her now?

BROOKS: (As nurse aide) I am, OK? She's at home alone, but I'm watching her through my phone. And it's because school is closed, and afterschool is closed.

BLAKE: (As Marion) You don't have, like, a neighbor or a friend or...

BROOKS: (As nurse aide) Do you think I would've left her alone if I did?

DEGGANS: The eventual solution, suggested by Marion's mom, nearly tears both families apart. "Social Distance" was cast and filmed entirely on lockdown. It just feels so last spring, especially given that even big network TV series are now easing back into production. Still, the episodes here work because they're not pretentious. They're simple human stories which could, with a bit of tweaking, be compelling even without the backdrop of a global pandemic.

After so many months of coping with coronavirus, the idea of spending time with a program called "Social Distance" might not seem all that appealing. But you'll be rewarded with a subtly entertaining series that's mostly about the power of human connection, which we could all still use more of.

I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF MY DAD VS. YOURS' "NO FARM NO FOOD NO FUTURE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.