When the pandemic closed down Hollywood back in March of 2020, it was a hard pause for most entertainment until filming and performances could start again. But for some, it was an opportunity. Shows in the early stages of writing and production had one of two choices. They could proceed as planned (once it was deemed safe to do so), or they could rewrite to fit the new paradigm. In the case of HBO's Coastal Elites, the writers went with the latter. The results are a little confusing, but hilarious as the Coastal Elites trailer promises five actors performing in quarantine.
So far, most of the shows that have resorted to using video conferencing as a series format are ones where audiences are already familiar with the characters. Parks & Recreation and 30 Rock, for example, both did virtual specials where viewers got to check in on old favorites and see how they were handling the new reality.
Coastal Elites is the next step in the ever-evolving format. The film tells the story of five characters all handling the crisis in different ways. Clarissa Montgomery (Sarah Paulson) is a meditation instructor and YouTube personality, while Miriam Nessler (Bette Midler) is a long-time teacher in the NYC public school system. Mark Hesterman (Dan Levy) is a young actor in West Hollywood who just saw his entire industry shutter, while Callie Josephson (Issa Rae) is a well-connected D.C. philanthropist attempting to make a difference. And finally, Sharynn Tarrows (Kaitlyn Dever) is a young nurse from Wyoming who flies to New York to volunteer during the peak of the crisis.
These are their stories.
Here's the official synopsis for the special:
The comedic satire tells contemporary stories of characters breaking down and breaking through as they grapple with politics, culture, and the pandemic. Bette Midler, Kaitlyn Dever, Dan Levy, Sarah Paulson, and Issa Rae star in this special presentation that explores our current world of deeply divided politics and the universal pursuit of human connection.
The movie is a virtual-based project, but this isn't your typical "little boxes on a screen site." Instead, the crew used the digital format in creative ways to make some of the segments feel more like single camera shot scenes. In others, the falseness of the zoom image is played up to parody the now-all-too-familiar experience.
Coastal Elites was not supposed to be a show about the pandemic, or even a TV special. It was initially conceived for the Public Theater in New York as a live play, satirizing American politics and our divided country. But when the crisis hit, playwright Paul Rudnick simply followed the pack. The result was filmed under strict quarantine guidelines and available for everyone to watch at home on HBO.
Coastal Elites premieres on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020 at 8 p.m. ET.