Social Distance

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Mike Colter in Social Distance.
Mike Colter in Social Distance.
Photo: Netflix


5/5 Stars


Filmed in isolation, this narrative anthology series features both dark and funny takes on how people strive to stay connected while staying apart. 


For most of this year, the world stayed connected through digital mediums on computers and cellphones as a virus drove entire nations, including South Africa, indoors in an effort to save lives.

Zoom chats, WhatsApp video calls, social media timelines - this was how we lived our lives for the better part of 2020. It's hard to imagine that you would want to relive that with Netflix's experimental anthology series Social Distance.

Produced, cast and filmed entirely remotely, its first season shares eight short stories from quarantine told entirely through the digital lens. It's going to hit close to home and for some, it might be too much of a stressful trigger to watch.

However, the sad and sometimes funny stories also offer a certain emotional catharsis that will make you cry all the tears you have possibly been hoarding during this difficult time. While very much skewed towards the American public with the inclusion of Black Lives Matter stories, there remains a universal humanity that allows us to grieve the loss of 2020 collectively.

The stories cover a recovering alcoholic trying to remain sober alone in lockdown, a family that butts heads over their father's digital funeral, a single mother who tries to work and look after her child at the same time, couples struggling to cope with the pandemic and young people navigating their lives in the face of countrywide unrest and racism.

At least one or more of the scenarios will resonate with your life. While it's all scripted and professional actors are used, the use of the digital tools, similar to horror Unfriended and thriller Searching, gives it a sad authenticity. Only when you recognise some famous faces do you remember that these are performances created by Orange Is the New Black producer Hilary Weisman Graham. Beyond the content, the creativity and technicality behind this unique filmmaking style should be applauded and is a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of the human spirit during hard times. From cellphones to laptops, even to alarm systems, the stories are woven through our digital world that's become more of a part of the real world, now more than ever.

Familiar faces you'll recognise include Mike Colter (Luke Cage), Asante Blackk (When They See Us), Oscar Nuñez (The Office) and husband-wife acting pair Becky Ann and Dylan Baker (Girls, The Good Wife, Selma). Everyone gave stellar performances, although the standouts for me were Colter as a heartbroken alcoholic, Blackk as an angry young activist and newcomer Kylie Liya Paige as a lovestruck gamer girl. Among the sadness, the brightest spark was the adorable gay couple trying to spice up their sex life with a threesome. Hilarious yet heartwarming, it also highlights the stress a pandemic has added to online dating, especially when you have to consider a sanitation procedure before hooking up with someone new.

Social Distance won't be for all, and it can be difficult to get used to the different filmmaking style, but it's a must watch if you're in need of a good, quick cry to release some frustration into the ether. I can't guarantee you'll feel better after watching it - it might leave you even more sad than you were before watching it - but it might just help you start processing the 2020 trauma that's still going on. At least you'll feel less alone.



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