Topic’s ‘Release’ is Much more Nerve-Wracking Than it Should Have Been

Topic’s Release wasn’t meant to be a look at a pandemic from within a pandemic, and you can tell from the way its shot, from the way people react, and even from the morbid tone of it all. As a filmmaker, it’s absolutely not the way I would have chosen to approach it now that we are, you know, living in a pandemic.

It is, however, interesting to look at it academically, as sort of a study in what we thought a pandemic would be, versus, you know, what it ended up being.

More drama! About the same level of knowledge! Emotional decisions that compromise clinical decisions! Tons of people not following the rules!

Wait, that sounds familiar.

In part, this is the problem with Release – we can’t take it as fiction. It’s not fiction, for us. And yet, it’s also not familiar. In fact, it’s a rather grim caricature of what’s going on in real life, except it doesn’t really go into the government side or the whys, it’s just a look at some very human stories that could have been.

Might have been.

What works in the show’s favor is that it’s short. Six episodes, all between 8 and 15 minutes, are very easy to digest. It also helps that, as I said before, there’s no attempt at an explanation, this isn’t Contagion or anything like that. This is just a snapshot of life during a pandemic.

For me, I admit the idea sounded interesting, in theory, before I started watching. After I hit play, though, it stopped being as interesting. It became more …what’s the word? Nerve-wracking. I didn’t know these people, and the show isn’t really going for the “I feel for this character” kind of sympathy, but it doesn’t really need to.

I feel for me, living in a pandemic that feels like it will never end, while worrying about my job and the plans I had that now look unattainable. I feel for my friends – the ones who have spent months quarantined without being able to see a single soul, the ones that are starting a family in the shadow of all this, and the ones that are stuck with family that doesn’t appreciate them.

And I feel for my own family, the ones I have barely seen. My grandparents, especially, who should be surrounded by family, and not stuck in a house together we can’t enter, forced to figure out technology that no one at 90+ should be forced to understand, just to be able to stay connected.

So no, Topic’s Release isn’t the kind of show I want to watch right now. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad one, or that it might not be an interesting thing to examine in a few years. But I don’t really need to be comparing my pandemic response to fictional characters, I really, really don’t.

The synopsis for the show reads:  A prescient and gripping series, created and produced prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, that reveals a series of interconnected portraits from the first several months of a fictional pandemic as it strikes the quiet outskirts of an American city.

The show stars Aunjanue Ellis (Lovecraft Country, The Clark Sisters), Kota Eberhardt (Dark Phoenix), Noah Averbach-Katz (A Bread FactoryThe Good Fight), Mark Borkowski (RamyHouse of Cards), Matthew Lawler (The FamilyCity on a Hill), and Lana McKissack (A Christmas Movie Christmas), and was co-created and written by Joe Penna (director Arctic, upcoming Stowaway) and Ryan Morrison (Arctic, Turning Point) and directed by Joe Penna, Ryan Morrison and Joshua Caldwell.

Release is available today on Topic.

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