HBO’s Station Eleven Imagines a Plague Much Harder to Recover from than COVID-19

  • American Auto. NBC. Monday, December 13, 2010, 10 p.m.
  • Grand Crew. NBC. Tuesday, December 14th at 8 pm
  • Station Eleven. Available Thursday, December 16, on HBO Max.

If you have heard it before, please stop me. Some reports suggest that there is a flu pandemic in Europe and Asia. Then, a person boards an American flight from overseas. The man is coughing. The next thing you know hospitals are full and people are drowning. It seems that it only gets worse.

Station Eleven, HBO Max’s new miniseries about life after a pandemic apocalypse, is no cheapie ripped-from-the-headlines exploitation flick. This show was loosely adapt from the book by Emily St. John Mandel. It premiered in January 2020. That’s months before COVID-19. Even as brutal the death count has been (5,3 million as I write), this is a mere sniffle compared to what was happening in the aftermath of the apocalyptic crisis. Station ElevenIt is responsible for a significant amount of world’s population decline.

It’s difficult to ignore the similarities, but it’s not impossible to watch the show with at least some of your what-ifs. Station ElevenIts first episode was particularly memorable. Although the series is primarily about the long-term effects of flu, and it isn’t a huge-budget disaster flick or movie, the episode uses few subtle strokes to effectively evoke the sense of a society crumbling.

The show starts innocuously enough—an actor collapses and dies onstage in Chicago of an apparent heart attack during a performance of King Lear. The child actor Kirsten (Matilda Lawler) is a key figure in the chaos that ensues. EvilOne of Lear’s daughters, (played by) is unable to reach her parents, so a stranger named Jeevan in the crowd, who happens to be Himesh Patel, an aspiring Beatles guitarist, picks her up. YesterdayShe is offered to accompany her by her sister, a local doctor. Then, he is contacted by his sister, an ER physician, and asked ominously “Have I heard about this virus?” A series of threatening images begin to appear on the screen. They include desolate streets and empty shops, as well as jumbled lines outside of hospitals. Last but not least, the text response to a phone call made by a character from her father. It was discovered on the corpse of a man at the city morgue. The text adds with finality, “DON’T COME TO HERE.”

The next episode is not always obvious. It quickly becomes a non-chronological screenplay, with the tight plotting and processsion of the initial episode soon disintegrating into an incoherent screenplay. This skips between at least three times-lines: the immediate days after the outbreak, the change of scene two years later and the settled environment of twenty years from now. Scenes often change at the pace—and, often, coherence—of a 1981 J. Geils Band video, with the soundtrack from one sometimes running over another. These three episodes, which I watched of 10 in total, are more like a workbook than a story.

Yet, it has an attractive undertone Station ElevenA sense that many of the remaining human beings want more than survival. They desire to connect, to build a society and culture. Kirsten is now an adult and has joined the troupe of Shakespearean actors traveling the Midwest to perform for small towns that have rabid enthusiasm. Mackenzie Davis portrays Kirsten as an adult. Keep Calm and Fire).

Human decency is a common trait that has many benefits. Station Eleven is the polar opposite of most post-apocalyptic tales—for instance, Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road and its film version, in which the roads of a nuked America are mostly roamed by gangs of hungry cannibals. That’s not to say the world of Station Eleven is some kind of hippie nirvana. It has an underbelly sufficiently dark that grown-up Kirsten’s hands sport a generous number of the tattoo equivalents of gun-stock notches, keepsakes of her capable work with knives. There’s also a pervasive feeling that someone—or something—is watching. And what’s that mysterious comic book to which Kirsten keeps consulting as if it’s a training manual?

But mostly the timbre of Station Eleven is set by those opening scenes LawlerAnd Patel, whose unsentimental tenderness is quiet testimony to what excellent actors the pair of them are. In a world, both on-screen and off-, that still echoes with Rodney King’s shout of “Can’t we all just get along?, they answer, quietly, “Yes, we can.”

Station Eleven is one of three series premiering this week that were intended to be on the air during the 2020-21 television season but got knocked for a loop by COVID-19. They are two sitcoms that get a glimpse at TV’s idle days, before being added to the regular NBC program next year.

It is an excellent addition. American AutoJustin Spitzer created another hilarious workplace joke, the Walmart Send-up. Superstore. There’s also the matter of Grand CrewA black bougie version Cheers in which Cliff and Norm and the gang drink at a wine bar and spend much of their time stealing one another’s kambucha.

American Auto is set at a troubled Detroit auto company that’s swirling the drain after the catastrophic flop of  its new self-driving car, which turns out to run down black pedestrians because its optical-scanning equipment was only tested on white mannequins. The designer claims that the car doesn’t discriminate against Indian people.

The company is looking for a president and reaches out to the family for help. Ana Gasteyer, an entrepreneur from the pharmaceutical industry, was brought in as a corporate shark (Ana Gasteyer). SNL Fame), who, unfortunately, has never heard of, or even learned to pronounce “chassis.” She says that you don’t need boner pills to start your business. Instead, start with hypertension then work up to boners. She inherits an overwrought ambition and stupidity-filled management team that is rampant in greed. One of her assistants blithely admits that “my hair curler is the most tech-savvy thing I can use”

The rest, like Gasteyer American Auto‘s cast—including Harriet Dyer (The Invisible ManJon Barinholtz, a promiscuous publicist and Jon Barinholtz are (SuperstoreTye White (as a corporate heirhead) and ).NCIS: Los Angeles) as a bemused assembly-line worker yanked up into management so there will be at least one person there who knows something about cars—is uniformly hilarious.

The laughs are always coming from all directions. American Auto—for instance, a whiteboard off in the corner of one scene that lists possible additions to the next model, including “toilet bowls under seats” and “hamsters in tires.” The show’s theme tune, which I cannot understand why, was taken from Frankie Lymons 1956 song. I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent.

It is quite the opposite American Auto‘s sheer looniness, Grand Crew seems intent on redefining the word “tepid.” The characters are all upwardly bound but relentlessly uninteresting  residents of Los Angeles’ hipster Silver Lake neighborhood—unless your idea of “interesting” is metrosexual debates over what’s unmanly (consensus: crying naked in the bathroom after viewing a Paddington BearMovie) Or the relative merits single- or double-ply toilet papers (consensus: Why are you looking?