Jeff Pope’s Isolation Series has four episodes showing isolation life in Britain. The first and slightly longest episode, clocks in at a whopping 14 minutes. It’s about Mel (Sheridan Smith), a pregnant woman with everyone telling he that they worry about her. She might be allowed to have someone at the hospital for when she gives birth. But the people she wants to step up only give her empty words. Mel interacts with other characters through Zoom, which is where most character interactions are taking place.
Another episode of Isolation Stories is about Ron (Robert Glennister). Ron is an older man with a weaker immunity system giving his son a hard time. A third episode shows Rochelle (Angela Griffin), a psychiatrist still doing e-sessions with a hypochondriac with ambiguous morality. The last one is about a woman with the name of, ahem, Karen, who does not really appear that much in the episode. Instead, we see instead is that woman’s ex-husband Stephen (Eddie Marsan), getting visits from his pesky ex father in law.
Isolation Stories can just be a series of one man and one woman shows. After all, half of the first episode is just Sheridan Smith reacting to phone calls. But the rest of her episode, just like the others, have characters bouncing off each other. The visuals here are inconsistent but the best moments include intimate ones where these characters are deep in their thoughts. They’re alone although they sometimes share the same room with someone.
Yes, the plots themselves have left turns but giving each set of characters less than fifteen minutes. That means that the series comes short of fleshing these characters out. Throwaway lines can only do so much when it comes to convincing audiences about these characters’ pasts. And some episodes are more tonally consistent than others. It is better at doing drama than comedy. Its idea of comedy centers on one character annoying the hell out of another. Which is the last thing anyone needs in this moment.
The series does what it can for variety. It shows the hard work of stars of British theatre and television, unknown to most people outside of North America. But even simple stuff like this also require a lot of suspension of disbelief. The settings are still reminders that these are actors’ and their houses, living experiences slightly better than regular folk. This was a great attempt, but there is more potential in innovation outside of the British star system. There, new people can tell real stories.