During the seemingly unending lockdown keeping people from being in the same room, there was a dearth of new media content, just when all alternative entertainment options were shut down. However, one innovation broke through the content vacuum both to entertain and raise money for charity: the television reunion. The casts of countless TV series came together over Zoom to raise money for COVID-19 relief.
These reunions came in three forms: a table read of a past episode, an original episode set under lockdown, or a group interview. Each have their patterns, strengths, and weaknesses, and demonstrate the creativity (and lack thereof) that can arise when content must be created under social distance.
The group cast Zooms are, for the most part, fairly banal. Some cast members film a Zoom get-together, maybe with an outside interviewer, and share stories from behind the scenes while reminiscing.
More akin to to a talk-show interview or convention panel than anything original, these cast reunions are fairly skippable, except if you have great affection for a cast. The shorter, less organized reunions are a lot more fun, while the longer, moderated interviews can feel stilted, performative, or awkward.
Sometimes they tease a potential revival, as with “White Collar” and “Fraiser,” or are promoting a new project, like the upcoming “Psych” movie. There are countless of these group Zooms.
Even some movie casts got involved! The success of the reunions comes down to three factors: the skill of the moderator, your interest in the show/film and its cast, and their affection for each other.
New Episodes Provide Topical Laughs
Some shows decided to take it a step further and create new quarantine-inspired episodes, showing how their characters would behave under lockdown. If any show is perfect for the lockdown-era, it is “Monk,” which followed a germaphobic genius detective, played to perfection by Tony Shalhoub.
The episode was only seven minutes, but featured some of the best lockdown-related jokes, due to reliance on the hilarious central character. Watch as Monk social distances by standing six feet away from his computer while Zooming, washes his hands for the entirety of 100 bottles of beer on the wall, and justifies his collection of hand sanitizer — it’s not hoarding if you bought it before COVID.
The cast of recently ended “Schitt’s Creek” reunited in character as the Rose family and fellow residents of the eponymous town to celebrate teachers in place of a graduation ceremony. More than half of the seven-minute episode is spent on a Mariah Carey cover and guest appearance from the singer, which is disappointing, because the dialogue in the beginning is quite funny and feels appropriate for the characters. I would have welcomed more of the quirky characters playing off each other.
“Parks and Recreation” made a full half-hour episode following Leslie’s attempts to keep up with her friends while under lockdown. The writers had to establish convoluted reasons the three married couples were not together (due to the actors being under lockdown in their respective homes), and some of the COVID-related conversations were a little preachy. Other than that, it was a perfectly serviceable and even enjoyable. Some of the jokes were awkward, but more landed than didn’t. Fans of the show will enjoy seeing their favorite characters come together to make us laugh again.
Table Reads — Best of Both Worlds
While the originality displayed by shows creating wholly new episodes is admirable, the best-functioning quarantine reunion comes in the form of a table read. Rather than relying on current-event jokes or spending behind-the-scenes anecdotes, the table reads meld the actors’ personalities and backstage stories with the existing shows we know and love.
Similar to the original content, comedies work best for the table reads, and thereby comprise the majority of the offerings. The joke-based dialogue functions nicely over Zoom, as the lack of sets and costumes don’t take too much away from situation-based comedy. Physical humor is not lost, however, as the show’s creators often step in to read the stage directions, which adds a new dimension to the fun.
Spy comedy “Chuck” was on the weaker end, through no fault of the talented cast and writers. While the series cleverly blended comedy, drama, and action, these tonal shifts don’t translate well into the table read format. Much of the tension is conveyed through music, body language, and lighting, none of which come through on a Zoom call. Moreover, there is a degree of unserious-ness permeating the medium, which further undercuts the suspense.
“The Nanny” was an extraordinarily good time, cleverly selecting the pilot for the episode. The fast-paced dialogue, crazy characters, and cast chemistry all shone beautifully.
Adult animation comedy “Big Mouth” was definitely a trip, as it was odd to see the adult actors behind the voices of the angsty and puberty-stricken teens. For an already crass and cringe-inducing series, they chose one of the most uncomfortable episodes, so the table read is not for the faint of heart. But it’s worth it to witness Nick Kroll alter his voice and mannerisms to fit each of the many characters he plays.
My favorite of the reunion table reads was easily “Community.” This is partly coming from bias, as the series is easily my favorite comedy and one of my favorite shows. That aside, it was also functionally the best of the group. The episode selected took place with all of the characters sitting around a table for the majority of its 22-minute runtime, and it’s simultaneously one of the funnier and more heartwarming offerings of the series.
The cast’s superlative chemistry and specific characters leap back into existence beautifully, reminding fans why the show was so incredible in the first place. The episode is written in a three-act structure, so between each act, show runner Dan Harmon and the cast discuss the show and analyze the episode.
And if great writing, excellent acting, and interesting analysis aren’t enough of a draw, watch to see typically suave guest actor Pedro Pascal (in for Walton Goggins) unable to get through a particularly odd and hilarious joke about a bequeathment of a canister of sperm. Here’s hoping that the reunion will catalyze the oft-promised movie (#sixseasonsandamovie).