Coronavirus, Explained review – Vox remain at the forefront of current affairs with “This Pandemic”

April 26, 2020
Jonathon Wilson 1
Netflix, TV Reviews


The hastily-constructed “This Pandemic” keeps Vox in the middle of a vital debate about our current global crisis.



The hastily-constructed “This Pandemic” keeps Vox in the middle of a vital debate about our current global crisis.

Coronavirus, Explained (Netflix) debuted on Sunday, April 26. This review is of the first episode, “This Pandemic”. 

Since (ostensibly) democratically-elected public officials have now resorted to suggesting that the citizenry injects bleach directly into their bloodstream, it’s obvious that the on-going debate around Covid-19 is muddled at best and nonsensical at worst. Enter, then, Vox, whose popular Explained docuseries on Netflix has always been a reliable source of straight-up, fat-free informational content. Who better to unpack the current affairs than them? Thus, Netflix asked them to, and we have Coronavirus, Explained, the latest limited series spin-off with the first episode, “This Pandemic”, having debuted today, Sunday, April 26, and two more planned for a summer release.

Coronavirus, Explained joins The Mind, Explained and Sex, Explained as more specific varieties of the general Explained format, but it also joins Answered, a Vox daily Q&A dedicated to the coronavirus that is currently airing on Quibi. I reviewed that show and declared it a public service; Claire Gordon, showrunner of this new Netflix outing, said much the same thing. Within the Explained oeuvre, “This Pandemic” works as a kind of sequel to last November’s “The Next Pandemic”, an episode of the show that predicted in scarily accurate detail the legitimate threat of the outbreak we’re currently in the midst of. A lot of Coronavirus, Explained, which was supposed to enjoy a 10-week production period but ended up being pushed out in just two-and-a-half by a remote team, is comprised of interviews conducted for that earlier episode, with added context given current affairs. But a good chunk of it is new.

It’s worth considering the effort required to bring such a thing to life in a tight timeframe given current circumstances. J.K. Simmons, who narrates, recorded his voiceover from home; the show’s animators, who provide its now-trademark rudimentary visual aids, back up the observations from interviewees and the Vox newsroom with engaging and clear graphics. If you didn’t know how quickly “This Pandemic” was put together, you’d never guess.

A persistent theme of the discussion around coronavirus is that it’s subtle and stealthy; it mimics the typical flu and spreads quickly and easily by making many of the infected only slightly ill, still able to go about their business and pass the virus to everyone they encounter. That sense of a hostile, malignant alien moving among us is a terrifying one, but perhaps the scariest thing about Covid-19 is how little we know about it. Coronavirus, Explained must necessarily admit this. Its challenge is in remaining informative and hopeful while also conceding that this invisible viral enemy is a mystery to us.

Since the mini-series has two more episodes in the works, one about the development of a potential vaccine and another about how to cope with our current unprecedented lockdown measures, that lack of concrete answers in “This Pandemic” is also a promise that our understanding will continue to evolve as the limited series progresses; that it’ll reflect what we’ve learned, how we’re coping, and how we might fight back. That is where Coronavirus, Explained becomes hopeful, but until then, its frank admission of how much more there is to learn is what makes it vital.

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1 thought on “Coronavirus, Explained review – Vox remain at the forefront of current affairs with “This Pandemic”

  • April 27, 2020 at 3:50 am

    This episode is full of bs! I’m still safer from being brainwashed!

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