"Staged": A Zoom Show Defies Performance Convention

The first season of “Staged” is as entertaining as a show filmed over Zoom could be. Every actor in the show manages to showcase their talents despite the lack of a traditional set, turning an interesting experiment into a wonderful product.

"Staged," which follows the production of a Zoom play and is itself recorded on Zoom, embraces a meta-framework for storytelling at the height of the pandemic.

When Covid sent the world into lockdown, many television shows and movies halted their filming schedules to comply with government restrictions and stop the spread of the virus on sets. But two actors, David Tennant and Michael Sheen, with the help of director Simon Evans, found a way around all that: they filmed a show over Zoom.

“Staged” follows Tennant and Sheen both playing themselves, or rather versions of themselves. Sheen plays himself as a slightly grumpy actor who is indignant at the thought of ever being the second choice for a role. Tennant plays a sometimes useless and restless father of five who cannot cook, alongside his wife, Georgia Tennant (played by herself). Simon Evans plays a scared, spineless director in an uncertain living situation, desperate to make the play work despite constant bickering between his two leads.

The first season of “Staged” is as entertaining as a show filmed over Zoom could be. The absurdity of making an entire show over Zoom lends itself to comedy very well and makes the show even more relatable during the pandemic.

Because the show is filmed almost entirely over Zoom, there is little opportunity for physical humor. As a result, the show is almost entirely reliant upon the comedic dynamic of its two leads. Sheen and Tennant are brilliant together. The two have such obvious chemistry that it would come as no shock if they were best friends in real life.

Watching other actors’ incessant arguing may prove tiresome but Sheen and Tennant’s clever back and forth remains hilarious and believable. Sheen tends to play the overzealous, quick-to-anger, uncooperative but still very charming counterpart to Tennant’s equally charming, often clueless character. Their director, Evans, who Sheen correctly describes as “weaselly,” tries ineffectively to mediate between the two as tensions mount. The trio’s chemistry is endearing.

Despite the obvious limitations of having little more than a computer screen for a set, there is plenty of opportunity for situational comedy. One of the best moments in the first season is when Tennant, who thinks he is alone on a call with Samuel Jackson (who was originally supposed to have Sheen’s role in the play), bashes  Sheen who, as it happens, is also on the call. Tennant then calls Sheen to apologize and rants about how Jackson is unimaginative and disconnected from reality. Jackson is, of course, still on Zoom with Sheen and hears everything. “I should have seen that coming shouldn’t I?” Tennant asks when he realizes his mistake. “Yes, motherfucker, you should have!” Jackson yells. Meanwhile, Sheen reveals that he was caught offloading the wine bottles from his excessive drinking into his octogenarian neighbor’s recycling bins and is now being blackmailed by said neighbor into doing her grocery shopping. And in a later episode, Evans brings in none other than Judi Dench to curse at Sheen and Tennant to get them back on track during another of their distracting squabbles.

And while the star power of its guest actors and the chemistry of the two leads may carry much of the show, it should be noted that the writing is also fantastic. The dialogue is funny in every episode and there are several running jokes that are effortlessly continued throughout the show. Some of the best jokes are in the credits: after one episode in which Sheen and Tennant get into a heated argument, the credits list the actors as “Micheal Sheen” and “That F#!king Liar David Tennant”.

But there are still moments of gravitas like when Sheen’s girlfriend Anna Lundberg (played by herself), Tennant and his wife Georgia all gather over Zoom to comfort Sheen as he makes a worried phone call to the hospital to inquire about his blackmailing neighbor who has been taken out on a stretcher. And there are other heartwarming moments between Evans and his sister (who takes him in while she is going through a break-up) and Tennant and Georgia (most touchingly when he says a simple but resonant ‘thank you’ to her after a long day). Every actor in the show manages to showcase their talents despite the lack of a traditional set or even a camera. It’s an interesting experiment that produced wonderful results. After the past 18 months, it’s good to find even the smallest silver linings. And “Staged” is definitely a silver lining. “Staged” is currently available on Hulu or Kanopy, which students can access through their Amherst accounts.