Let’s face it. There’s no masking the fact that the Wuhan coronavirus, or Covid-19, isn’t going away for now. At the time of writing, nearly 1000 are in quarantine or being isolated by the Singapore government, with many more on leave of absence (LOA). Unlike quarantines, LO-absentees are exiled at home for 14 days if they recently returned from China.
Either way, as long as I am stuck at home or at a facility (or a stranded cruise ship), I know I’ll be bored out of my mind. I’m sharing eleven shows which may shed some light into what’s happening and why it’s happening, fictional or otherwise. Or you can just watch them for fun if you’ve got … ahem … time to kill …
Note: If you have either a Netflix or Amazon Prime account, some of the poster images are direct links to the shows. Just click on ‘em and you’re ready to go.
1. Netflix’s Explained series (Season 2): The Next Pandemic episode (2019)
If I want to start, I would start with this. Seriously. My friends may say watch Contagion, Outbreak or Netflix’s timely Pandemic docuseries, but hold your horses, quarantinos, this documentary episode (which is less than 30 minutes) is the h’ordeuvre of the list.
Granted, most of you might have missed this one. It is part of a documentary series covering different world-changing events and trends, one of which relates to the next pandemic. The episode is narrated by J.K. Simmons (of Whiplash and Spider-man fame), and it includes Bill Gates predicting outbreaks like the coronavirus and how it spreads in live animal markets like China or Southeast Asia.
Here’s Bill Gates looking smug in his chair: “Called it!”
Anyway, calling these live animal markets Disease X factories, he talks about using technology to create vaccines quicker, which normally takes four to five years to discover, test and release.
“If a disease comes along that we haven’t seen before, typically it would take four or five years to come up with a vaccine against that disease. And new technologies might shorten those times,” Gates says in the episode. “When a pandemic comes along of any size, we always look back and wish we invested more.”
After learning what he’s doing to convert poop into reusable energy, we need to listen to more of Gates’ predictions, no matter how outrageous they sound.
2. Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak (2020)
Now that you’re all warmed up, you can deep dive into this six-part documentary series, also from Netflix. This series looks at different sources of animal-borne flu viruses, how they are transmitted, how resilient our global healthcare system (ie. WHO, USAID, CDC, etc.) is in handling such an outbreak, and how impressive medical researchers are these days in racing to find a vaccine.
The show is produced by the people behind Anthony Bourdain’s various documentary series and Netflix shows like Rotten. While the series may feel disjointed most times (due to the back-and-forth sequences within an hour-long episode), the subject matter is definitely timely.
Note that these are just two of the more recent documentaries on pandemics. There are countless more and you can Google-search or YouTube-search them till your nose bleeds—I mean—to your heart’s content.
Suggested search terms: Influenza 1918, Spanish Flu, Pandemic, SARS, Ebola, Zika, Nipah, H1N1, Swine Flu, Avian Flu and of course, Coronavirus.
3. Virus (2019)
This Indian Malayalam-language medical thriller is set in 2018 when the Nipah virus outbreak takes over the province of Kerala, India. Based on true events and directed by Aashiq Abu, Virus follows the different stages of the Nipah epidemic, reminiscent of the Wuhan coronavirus when it first took root in the city centre. From identifying the virus to ultimately finding a vaccine to eradicate it, the film’s plot doesn’t just focus on the number of people who die from it, but also the political machinations behind it, the paranoia that follows, and the disruption it causes to the lives of health care professionals, scientists, businessmen, and the commoner in the street.
What makes it realistic is the ostracism loved ones and suspects receive from close friends and families as the rate of infection increases. If you’d thought Hollywood had a stronghold on creating realistic, pandemic-related films, think again. Give Virus a shot (it’s on Amazon Prime) and see if your perception’s changed by the end of it.
4. Contagion (2011)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh and featuring an A-list cast from Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, and Gwyneth Paltrow to Laurence Fishburne, Contagion has been hailed as the most realistic portrayal of how the world breaks down and responds in the event of a global viral outbreak … if you believe what Hollywood has to say about it.
The story was primarily inspired by the 2003 SARS epidemic and the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic. Even better, the story links the virus to either pigs or bats. While both critics and audiences loved the fast pacing of the show, the general feedback was that Contagion lacks a layer of human empathy due to the sheer number of deaths it depicted, coupled with the persistent and disorientating jump-cuts across different parts of the globe.
5. Outbreak (1995)
I remember going into the cinema to watch Dustin Hoffman scream at a capuchin monkey on the big screen. Directed by Wolfgang Peterson (who also did Troy and The Perfect Storm), it stars Hoffman with Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Donald Sutherland.
6. Pandemic (2016)
Unlike the other shows, this film straddles science fiction territory more than realism. But because it bears the title Pandemic, I need to make sure you know what you’re in for when you click play. Beyond the mildly intriguing notion that Rachel Nichols stars as a doctor leading a group (which includes Alfie “Game of Thrones” Allen) to look for survivors after a global pandemic, the jarring aspect of this film is that a majority of it was shot from the first-person point-of-view, where the infected are portrayed as flesh-eating zombies.
If, however, you want to sink your teeth into some mindless action with no characterisation whatsoever, then Pandemic might suit your taste buds. Alternatively, you might want to consider playing the board game (no relation to the film) on your digital device instead. Don’t worry, it supports both co-operative multiplayer and solo play.
7. Flu, or Gamgi (2013)
Directed by Kim Sung-su and produced by CJ Entertainment, this South Korean disaster film focuses on the outbreak of an H5N1 deadly strain, which kills its victims within 36 hours. With a plot centred around the district of Bundang in Seongnam (population: 500,000), it’s a tragic Train to Busan story without flesh-eating zombies.
8. The Stand (1994)
This four-part miniseries is based on the novel of the same name by horror master Stephen King. King wrote the teleplay and also has a minor role in the show. Directed by Mick Garris, the show stars Gary Sinise, Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald, and a pre-wrinkle Ed Harris.
The good news is that CBS All Access will be airing a remake of The Stand miniseries with 10 episodes (expected release in 2020). It will star Alexander “True Blood” Skarsgard, James “Westworld” Marsden, Amber “Aquaman” Heard, Whoopi Goldberg, Greg Kinnear, and Marilyn Manson in an undisclosed role.
9. Survivors (2008)
Produced by the BBC, this science fiction TV series depicts the lives of a group of ordinary people who survived the aftermath of an unknown influenza strain called the “European flu”, which wiped out most of humanity. Based on the novel of the same name, Survivors sees the characters meeting challenges in the world as society breaks down, police systems disappear and rampant lawlessness reigns.
The series used to air on Netflix but is no longer streaming on the platform. Two seasons of the series were made, with 6 episodes each.
10. Netflix’s The Rain (2018)
This Danish TV series premiered as an original series on Netflix, with a plot revolving around a virus being carried by toxic rainfall. As humans in parts of European Scandinavia are wiped out after being drenched, the story follows the perils of siblings Simone and Rasmussen, as they hunt for their scientist-father with a group of survivors. We’re not sure if IKEA survived though …
11. Zoo (2015)
Based on the novel of the same name by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge, the premise of the Zoo TV series is centred on a mysterious pandemic infecting animals, causing them to attack humans all over the world in violent ways.
Before you start having Orwellian thoughts and mutter ‘Animal Farm’, the show keeps the point-of-view much more realistic as it focuses on the humans—an American zoologist, with his group of animal-behavioural and security experts (a Kenyan friend, safari guide, veterinarian and intelligence agent). Over time, the animal attacks become more coordinated and ferocious (cue Animal Farm, or Zootopia thoughts).
So, 11 shows to keep you company, entertained, and hopefully, mentally prepped for whatever happens outside your front door after 14 days. Good thing we now have mobile phones and the Internet, so you’ll know things aren’t as bad as in the movies or on TV, no matter how realistic they try to be … or are they?