If one of the characteristics of any virus is its immense capacity for expansion, then platforms would test positive at any level that measures their interest in pandemics. Leaving aside the countless series about vampires and zombies, which ultimately follow the same roadmap as our viral crises, the wealth of choices on offer of dramas, documentaries, and docudramas with this invisible enemy as the focal point is as generous as your favorite dream.
The Hot Zone
Based on Richard Preston’s eponymous novel from 1994, National Geographic produced this series, released last year. This is the dramatization of a real case: that of a US Army scientist who discovers a deadly virus when she examines monkeys at a quarantined primate center in Washington. It turns out to be Ebola, which would wreak havoc in subsequent years. There are six episodes starring Julianna Margulies, Noah Emmerich, Liam Cunningham, and James D’Arcy.
The Netflix algorithm owes us some explanation as to why on January 22nd – when the coronavirus was not yet in the media spotlight – it released the series “Pandemic”. Over six episodes, healthcare workers are interviewed as they strive to prevent the next global flu outbreak and have an effective vaccine in place. OK, so coronavirus is not the same as the ‘flu, I get it, but this series is a truly illustrative look at how to fight an almost undetectable enemy with a remarkable propensity for propagation.
Fortitude (and other polar fantasies)
The North Pole still generates enough mystery to feature as the ideal cradle for some of the greatest threats to humankind. The “Fortitude” series showed how a virus threatened the displaced scientific community in the arctic reaches of Norway and shows no mercy with the macabre psychological games it plays of those affected. The Cosmo channel tried its luck with “Arctic”, a Finnish noir also featuring a mysterious pathogen and a German virologist who has his work cut out for him trying to fit into an exceedingly small and tight-knit community. And “Helix”, on SyFy, explores the same premise: viral outbreak on a polar scientific base, with potentially disastrous consequences for all humanity.
Without abandoning colder landscapes, “The Rain”, as the title might suggest, envisions a world in which rain has become the vehicle for transporting a deadly virus that has almost wiped out the entire population of Scandinavia. However, two young siblings have managed to avoid contagion; they had a bunker. Now they have to venture abroad forced to begin exploring what we would call the “new normal”, which involves interacting with other survivors and continuing to face new threats. So far, they’ve released two seasons with the third and final season coming soon.
With more realism and a little further south, the action in “Cordon” takes place in Belgium,. The series produced by Eyeworks is six years old and suggests how a virologic crisis detected in central Antwerp, a strain of bird flu, might be addressed. The authorities order the total isolation of the city center to protect the rest of the country: a series that clearly Spanish authorities haven’t watched. Directed by Tim Mielants, who later took the helm for the third season of “Peaky Blinders.” There’s an American spin-off set in Atlanta, titled “Containment”.
The Plague (La Peste)
Spanish drama also took a shot at the concept of a pandemic. Movistar was successful with “La Peste”, which narrated how the black plague spread through the city of Seville in the late sixteenth century. Starring Pablo Molinero, Sergio Castellanos, and Paco León, among others, the second season is set five years after the events. Mediaset also had its own viral show with “Rabia” which started out life as an unmissable feature during prime time on Telecinco but ended up airing on Cuatro, where it was met with a lukewarm reception despite a cast featuring the likes of Patricia Vico, Carles Francino, Adriana Ozores and Malena Alterio. In order to save their skins, a group of carriers of an unidentified virus are forced to flee the police, as they await an unlikely cure.
The Last Ship
King of the popcorn directors, Michael Bay produced this post-apocalyptic series about the 218-strong crew of a naval destroyer, which is the last hope to find a remedy to the virus that, on land, has eliminated 80% of the world population. The series managed to stay afloat throughout five seasons on TNT with a simple plot and storyline, but spectacular action scenes, which is what it was all about.
In the race to eradicate the virus, we’ve almost become accustomed to the military metaphors and analogies to war. Well, “Medical Police” took that literally. Two doctors from the United States working at a São Paulo pediatric hospital discover a virus that can potentially decimate the population. The government recruits them as secret agents and they soon find themselves at the center of a sinister conspiracy. Netflix premiered the series in January, in a comedy tone that parodies spy thrillers: two months later it mightn’t have been such plain sailing.
The Last Man on Earth
Also in a humorous tone, Fox’s “The Last Man on Earth” narrates the tale of a man, played by Will Forte, who believes himself to be the last human survivor of a global disease. That is, until he casually bumps into another survivor, and they both annoy the hell out of each other, but who believe it is their task whether to repopulate the planet, or not. As the series progresses, other survivors join the group… that was until the all-annihilating virus took them to a better place… four seasons later…
The Burning Zone
And for all you series fans who have already polished off the nine previous recommendations and who have seen it all, you can set yourselves the task to try and hunt down “The Burning Zone”. With only one season, it was never available on DVD nor has it been purchased by any platform. A government team dedicated to investigating chemical and biological threats set out to solve some pretty nasty and mind-boggling cases. In response to the show’s low ratings, the leading actors were replaced mid-season, and a show that had initially incorporated supernatural and religious elements, shifted towards more action-oriented storylines. From the 1996/1997 season, this has remained as a friendly, if unsuccessful, poorer sibling of “The X-Files”.