In searching for a lighter story, I decided to watch These Days, a part of the Indie Series Program for Sundance. Produced by Adam Brooks and Theo Brooks, These Days tells the story of Mae (Marianne Redón) struggling through online dating in a post-COVID world where she meets Will (William Jackson Harper), and the two form a connection. I don’t know what I expected for These Days, but I have a low tolerance for dramas or general fiction that likes to place itself during a global pandemic. Often the efforts reek of this rushed effort, made to take advantage of a genuinely tragic situation.
With dated references to Tiger King and painfully written dialogue at some points (the first date Mae has is awkward, and awkward dates definitely exist, but no one speaks like this), These Days confirms my prejudice against stories purposefully set during a dramatized COVID quarantine.
Set in April 2020, Mae is suffering through something beyond just being trapped in her home and loneliness. She’s suffered some kind of ambiguous loss. The assumption would be that the ‘Sam’ that she misses is someone who has died due to the virus or he was a healthcare worker (given her dislike of the tradition of cheering for them at 7:00pm every day). Honestly, if this is the story they actually end up going with, it would somehow make this show worse.
Anyway, after a painful date with Taylor (Parker Young), she meets Will and the two hit it off. She does a weird quirky little dance that is both unrealistic and clearly choreographed for reproduction. It’s obvious that the creators want Mae’s odd little dance to be repeated on Tik Tok and Instagram as much as Anna Kendrick’s asinine “Cups” performance from Pitch Perfect. Will is charmed by this performance and the two plan to go on a second date.
But, plot twist! Will has ulterior motives and he may not appear to be who he says he is. Harper is actually one of the more enjoyable performances in this pilot, and his conversation with Amy Brenneman’s Janet is actually one of the better written scenes. But their Zoom call is crashed by his mom (Denise Dowse) in another awkward and manufactured moment. My biggest problem is that These Days suffers from a serious lack of imagination. The scenes that are meant to be funny, just aren’t.
The dramatizing the mass death of millions for the sake of entertainment comes off as callous and opportunistic. Rendón does it no favors. During a scene coded to be serious and dramatic, she flops around on the floor while holding her phone and recording herself at the perfect angle. It feels so disingenuous. There are better television show pitches out there. The only thing unique about this story is that it is set in April of 2020. The tropes are tired and uninspired, demonstrating absolutely nothing new. I’m sure there is someone out there who would enjoy this series, but I was happy to be done with this.