IMAGINE for a wonderful moment that last year never happened, that it was merely the figment of some writer’s imagination – a writer who then decided to pitch his/her idea Covid, the TV Series to the showrunner of a major US network. The pilot episode would be quite straightforward:
The writer sets the scene. ‘Funded by shady international figures, a biowarfare lab in – let’s say China – is experimenting with gain-of-function research …’
Showrunner: ‘What’s gain of function research?’
Writer: ‘It’s the medical alteration of an organism or disease in a way that increases pathogenesis, transmissibility or host range …’
Showrunner: ‘Why would anyone want to do that? Ok, never mind, go on, go on …’
Writer: ‘The biowarfare lab successfully weaponises a common-or-garden coronavirus, the containment of which – like nuclear pollution emanating from Chernobyl – turns out to be beyond their capabilities.
‘Before they can stop it, the weaponised coronavirus escapes the lab and is spreading across the globe – aided by the Chinese New Year – where it then rips through the weak and the elderly in hospitals and care homes, because not only did hospitals turn out to be super-spreaders, but because the elderly who caught the disease were then dumped back into the care homes by the Health and Social Care Secretary of the day.’
Showrunner: ‘C’mon, no way could a lead character be that dumb. Nobody’s gonna like this guy. He’s an idiot.’
Undaunted, the writer ploughs through the next few episodes, explaining how some dodgy British scientists try to bury the lab-leak story.
‘Then, four days after the gain-of-function coronavirus is downgraded (and knowing that it killed predominantly the over-80s), the Prime Minister of the day solemnly announces to the nation that coronavirus is the biggest threat the country has faced for decades and that people of all ages must stay home …’
Showrunner: ‘How many people have died of the disease at this stage?’
Writer: ‘One hundred and seventy-seven.’
The showrunner looks confused. The writer jumps in before another question is asked.
‘The Government then brings in a psychological nudge unit headed by a kind of Axis Sally-style Bond villain whose job it is to terrify the public into staying home.
‘But it’s sunny, people want to be out and isn’t vitamin D an essential component for a healthy, functioning immune system? No matter, football matches are curtailed, schools closed, pubs closed …’
Showrunner: ‘Pubs I get, I mean that’s where they hatched the Gunpowder Plot, right?’
Writer: ‘Right. Hugging is banned, as is visiting friends, sitting on a park bench with another human and both the underarm and overarm throwing of snowballs.
‘In fact, all services covered by income tax – education, health, culture, media and sport, trade and industry and transport – are closed down with immediate effect. All apart from law and order. After all, the police are needed to arrest all those with the temerity to seek out fun or joy.’
Showrunner: ‘No cop would arrest someone for throwing a snowball. What is this, China? Do they even have snow in China?’
Writer: ‘While Axis Sally mobilises her leprechauns of doom to spin the Behavioural Change Wheel and terrify the public into bondage using images of depleted coffin supplies, overflowing hospitals, the suffering and the dying – think A Clockwork Orange – the Government’s multi-billion-pound test-and-trace system collapses under the weight of its own mediocrity.
‘As luck would have it, the Americans had modified a handy little PCR test that – though originally used to rapidly amplify samples of DNA – turns out to be so accurate it can even detect coronavirus in an orange.
‘Sales of oranges plummet. Hospitals cancel all elective surgery, closing wards up and down the country, while those to whom the public might turn in a time of crisis – GPs and religious institutions – also shut their doors. They’re taking no chances.
‘Neither is the press, who not only fail to report on the exponentially increasing litany of errors, but ramp up the fear quotient to Warp Ten.’
‘Hold on!’ The showrunner stops the writer in mid-flow. ‘Where are all the heroes? The good guys. We need good guys, right?’
The writer has to admit there aren’t any. But he needs the commission, so on the hoof he hastily conjures up a few.
‘The heroes are a group of doctors who attempt to promote a cheap-as-chips anti-inflammatory drug with anti-viral properties which has been around for over 40 years, cures people of the coronavirus in 24 hours and probably explains why there is so little of the gain-of-function coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa. Or Zimbabwe.’
Showrunner: ‘And the good guys get to meet the President or the PM right? Get given the Nobel Prize or something?’
Writer: ‘Well, no. Because no one is allowed to talk about the drug. The hero doctors are ignored, banned from social media sites, ridiculed, cancelled, fired, eviscerated by their peers and dispatched to Tinfoil Hat Alley.’
The showrunner’s arms are crossed. A confused frown tickles his brow. ‘That would never happen. The people would have taken the meds. Of course they would. This is fantasy.’
Writer: ‘Nobody told them about the meds. This is the future. All information is controlled, all dissent stifled. Anonymity is a crime.’
The showrunner looks troubled. The writer goes on to explain that so successful was Axis Sally’s fear stimulus that the terrified public, having been paid to stay home, now had to be tempted with free meals in order to entice them out of their houses.
‘And there was of course the promise of a vaccine on the horizon – albeit rushed through on an emergency-use ticket as there were no other official cures in sight.
‘It meant the terrified people could be used in a clinical trial because they were so terrified and believed the Government when it told them this was their ticket out of lockdown – even though the majority of deaths were in the elderly and the clinical trials were on 16 to 55-year-olds.’
The showrunner interjects. ‘Your plot has more holes than a Swiss cheese. If the Government believed the virus was so deadly, why didn’t they close the borders? Why did they lock down a country for a virus that only killed the over-80s? Why test a vaccine on those who don’t need it?’
The writer has to admit that the whole thing does sound a tad fantastical. But with the right actors and advertising budget, can’t almost anything be made believable?
The showrunner checks his watch. Luckily for the writer, the showrunner has little more to look forward to for the rest of his day than a three-bean salad for lunch and the sacking of an editor.
The writer carries on: ‘Following the Government’s vaccine rollout, there was a huge spike in deaths – possibly because the vaccines challenged people’s immune systems.
‘It meant that some developed coronavirus who otherwise wouldn’t have died from it, plus other diseases like herpes, shingles, Bell’s palsy and Guillain-Barre Syndrome, or possibly because – as the tinfoil hat experts had warned – you never vaccinate during a pandemic (which was ignored).
‘Or it could be that these new vaccines were not actually vaccines at all, but some kind of gene-based therapy akin to a sort of gain-of-function of the immune system which could then act against and destroy the host, organ by organ. But that didn’t stop the people queuing for these vaccines.’
The showrunner has his head in his hands.
‘… or the Government getting emergency approval to vaccinate healthy children who didn’t die from the virus and whose young, strong immune systems reacted even worse to the vaccines, leading to multiple hospitalisations and the collapse of the health system that the people had originally been locked down by the governments to protect …’
The showrunner is waving for the writer to stop.
‘Look kid’, advises the showrunner, ‘you got a wild, untamed and if I might say, bordering-on-delusional imagination. Sure, there are a lot of potentially interesting ideas here, but the central theme … I mean this could never happen. E-v-e-r. And even if it did, the only way it could happen is if all the lead characters were 100 per cent bozo. Or sociopaths. I’m guessing it doesn’t end well?’
Saving his best for last, the writer says: ‘Here’s the twist. The great news is that not only does the coronavirus appear to cure flu, Alzheimers, COPD, asthma and chronic lower respiratory disease, it also turns out in the end that many of the deaths attributed to the gain-of-function coronavirus may in fact turn out to be down to a completely different illness. So the virus is in fact less deadly than everyone thought. Which is great news!’
Slowly it is beginning to dawn on the showrunner. As it does so, his eyes light up with possibility. ‘Right’. He’s nodding his head. ‘I get where you’re coming from, finally. So … it’s kinda like Mr Bean meets Contagion?’
The writer attempts a meek protest, but the showrunner is off on a whole new path. He’s already cast Jim Carrey as the numbnuts PM and Jessica Biel as the gutsy, principled, sexy hero doctor. He can see a Golden Globe on the horizon and he’s hurtling towards it.
He looks back at the writer, whose lips appear to be moving. But in Showrunner World, he’s already been muted.
‘It is a comedy, right?’