A beautiful apocalypse. A TV show about a pandemic may not sound appealing in the middle of a real pandemic, but HBO Max’s new series Station Eleven became an instant hit.
The show, based on the novel of the same name by Emily St. John Mandel, debuted in December 2021 to widespread acclaim. Set in a contemporary version of Chicago, the show begins during the early stages of a deadly flu pandemic that quickly kills much of the world’s population. Jeevan Chaudhury (Himesh Patel) learns early on of the virus’ lethality and decides to stock up on groceries before holing up at his brother’s apartment.
As with the book, however, the show is only partially set in the days before the pandemic. It also flashes forward 20 years in the future to follow Kirsten Raymonde (Mackenzie Davis) as she travels around the United States with a nomadic group of theater performers. Kirsten, who is played as a child by Matilda Lawler, was just 8 years old when the pandemic began, so she has little memory of the “before” times.
In a striking turn of events, Station Eleven began production in January 2020 just as the coronavirus pandemic began upending lives all across the real world. The cast and crew were forced to postpone filming for a full year, finally picking the shoot back up in February 2021.
Davis, who plays one of Station Eleven‘s main characters, felt that making the show in the middle of a real pandemic gave an extra layer of emotion to the production. “It felt like so much of  was feeling an amorphous grief and not knowing where to put it,” the Halt and Catch Fire alum told Elle in December 2021. “And it felt like the show made a house that we all got to put our grief into. And so it was quite sad for me.”
Patel, for his part, acknowledged that the show’s pandemic is significantly more deadly than the real one, but he still found eerie moments of recognition in the episodes. “I still contend with how strange it is,” he told Esquire in December 2021. “There are moments in episode one that hit so close to home; I’m sure people will assume it was modeled on what we’ve all been through, but we shot [that episode] before COVID.”
While some viewers may not be interested in watching a show about a global health crisis while still in the middle of one, others may find that its themes are actually comforting. “I think what makes the show special is how it speaks to universal themes of connection and love and loss,” Patel explained.
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