Pictured in this screen grab: (top row l-r) Otmara Marrero as Annie, Ely Henry as Rufus, Preacher Lawson as Ben; (bottom row l-r) Parvesh Cheena as Pradeep, Jill Knox as Michelle, Keith Powell as Garret, Shakina Nayfack as Ellis

The Radical Catharsis of NBC’s Connecting…

The terrific new series follows a group of friends surviving the pandemic via regular Zoom chats.

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After 8 months of pandemic living, a sitcom about friends bonding via Zoom may be the last thing you want to watch. After all, we spend most of our days in online meetings, online school, and in Zoom hangouts with our nearest and dearest: isn’t a Zoom-set series overkill? That’s what I thought, but after watching the first three episodes of NBC’s new dramedy Connecting…, I was happily proven wrong.

Connecting… follows seven close friends as they come together via Zoom to check in and commiserate over this scary socially distant world. The series, which starts at the beginning of quarantine, follows earnest writer Annie (Otmara Marrero) who nurses a hopeless crush on recently single Ben (Preacher Lawson, America’s Got Talent), married couple Garrett and Michelle (played by IRL married couple Keith Powell, 30 Rock and Jill Knox, Keith Broke His Leg), trans Clippers super-fan Ellis (Shakina Nayfack, Difficult People), conspiracy theorist Rufus (Ely Henry, Suburgatory) and stressed gay dad Pradeep (Parvesh Cheena, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend).

The series was created by Martin Gero (Blindspot) and Brendan Gall (The Lovebirds), who were inspired by their own Zoom bonding experiences with friends. And while Connecting… isn’t the first show to take a crack at pandemic programming (see Love in the Time of Corona, Coastal Elites, and various Zoom reunion specials), it is the first to accurately tap into the confusion, boredom, and anxiety of our collective cultural moment.

The pandemic has created a major feeling of disconnect that is both physical and psychological. Physically, we are we cut off from our friends, family and social life. There are no movies, no bars, no concerts, no sports. Then, there is the cognitive dissonance of a president who gaslights us into believing everything is fine, while nearly 210,000 people are dead. We watch the infection rate rise as relatives screech on social media that masks are an infringement of their rights.

There is no public outpouring of grief, no memorials, no collective mourning. We can’t even attend a loved one’s funeral, or hold the hand of a parent in a hospital bed.

We are people in desperate need of emotional catharsis, which Connecting… delivers with refreshing authenticity. And while we are inundated with COVID-19 coverage on the news and online, we have barely seen it handled in pop culture. It is a bracing relief then to see our own experience reflected back to us in this comedy. Connecting… artfully taps into the rollercoaster of emotions we’ve all experienced in the last 8 months. I can’t remember the last time a network series has affected me so deeply.

The central conceit of the series is helped by the charismatic, relatable cast of characters, who convey an effortless chemistry. The Zoom framing never feels static or gimmicky, allowing a natural intimacy to unfold as the gang trades calls with one another. I’m not embarrassed to say that while I laughed at many of the jokes, I also burst into tears more than once, because the series was voicing feelings I’ve expressed within my own Zoom friend group. In a time when we feel so deeply isolated and adrift, Connecting… reminds us that we are not alone. For better or worse, we are all in 2020 together.

Connecting… premieres tonight on NBC at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT. It will then move to 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on Oct. 29.

(featured image: NBC)

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Author
Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.