(CNN)“Connecting…” is just one of several post-coronavirus shows shot employing a Zoom-style, virtual format, focusing on a group of friends — diverse even by TV-sitcom standards — navigating the early days of quarantine measures. Yet it turns out to be smartly written, funny and occasionally touching, capturing the need for connection amid the struggles unique to this period.
Each week begins with the date, opening on “March 29, 2020” and jumping to April 15 and May 25 in the subsequent episodes previewed.
At the core of it all is a classic Sam-and-Diane relationship, with the prospect of romance between two of the longtime pals — something about which the others, naturally, strategize and gossip — at the worst possible time.
Ben (Preacher Lawson) has just broken up with a girlfriend none of them liked, seemingly leaving the door open for Annie (Otmara Marrero), who has long harbored feelings for him, in a scenario where the two were never previously free and single at the same time. Still, the proposed act of suggesting that they move in together — given his stated loneliness — feels like a major leap that she’s understandably reluctant to make.
They’re surrounded by friends each dealing with the crisis in their own way, as they discuss everything from the silly (“The NBA is not coming back this year!”) to the sobering, which includes hearing from a nurse seeing the virus’ impact firsthand as well as the Black Lives Matter movement.
Some of it is quite funny, like Pradeep (Parvesh Cheena), who spends most of his video calls hiding from his screaming, unseen children. Appropriately, the show keeps coming back to the melancholy associated with the state of the world, from Rufus (Ely Henry) beginning a chat by saying “I’ve been better” to Annie quietly asking, “We’ll go back to hanging out in person, right?”
In something that’s too rarely seen in network sitcoms, the friends are also in very different places economically, with some at best just getting by and others well situated for the pandemic, so much so that they’re kind of sheepishly enjoying the opportunity to cocoon at home.
Created by Martin Gero and Brendan Gall (“Blindspot”), “Connecting…” follows several scripted shows that have explored this housebound approach, including Freeform’s “Love in the Time of Corona,” HBO’s special “Coastal Elites” and Netflix’s upcoming anthology “Social Distance.” It’s the quality of the writing that elevates the material, capturing the angst that coronavirus has unleashed, made starker by the fact that March 29 and even April 15 feel so very long ago.
Like everything else, it’s unclear how long something like this can sustain that appeal, but for starters, “Connecting…” does indeed connect, at a moment when, to use an Olympic analogy, every TV dive into this pool has to be judged in part based on its degree of difficulty.
“Connecting…” premieres Oct. 8 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.