The Reel Review


This 26 minute Netflix program from Vox Media (creators of the Explained series), is a brief primer on the coronavirus responsible for our current global COVID-19 pandemic. It explores the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (spoiler alert, it’s bats), likely transmission routes and common symptoms of the virus. The program also compares COVID-19’s infectiousness and deadliness to other infectious diseases such as measles, HIV, bird flu, ebola, polio and smallpox. It also shows where on the planet pandemics are more prone to occur.

Narrated by JK Simmons (who provided voice over while sheltering from home), and incorporating interview excepts from its show last year with Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, Coronavirus Explained does a fine job of calmly illustrating the presence of pandemics throughout history. It also emphasizes the importance of social distancing, using both data and archival footage from two American cities, St. Louis and Philadelphia, during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. (Hint: having a parade during a pandemic is NOT a smart idea.)

While the information is pretty basic, Coronavirus Explained’s science-based program is informative and does contain some interesting takeaways worth checking out, not to mention that horrifying archival smallpox footage, to remind us that as deadly and scary as COVID-19 is, our current pandemic could have been a lot worse.


Dr. Li Wenliang, COVID-19 whistleblower and ultimately, victim.

• Dr. Li Wenliang is the doctor who first sounded the alarm of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China on December 30, 2019. The whistleblower died of the virus on February 7, a month after the Chinese government warned him to stop causing panic. The government later formally apologized to his family.

• Above is a graph from Coronavirus Explained showing how COVID-19 (yellow dot in the lower left) compares to other infectious diseases on the scale of deadliness and infectiousness when they first appeared.

• Vox Media plans to produce at least two more episodes in the coming months – one on COVID-19 vaccine development, and another about how people can cope with the current pandemic.

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