The virus-themed films Outbreak and Contagion are now more popular than they ever were during their initial releases. But once you’ve watched Dr. McDreamy as Jimbo or Gwyneth Paltrow play Patient Zero, what’s next on your viewing list?
Across genres, many TV shows have done an “outbreak” episode (or an “almost outbreak” episode). Here are a few of my favorites:
6. Bones “The Pathos in the Pathogens” 8.23 (2013). A journalist is murdered by a human-made mutated virus. It becomes personal after one of the team members becomes infected. Unfortunately, the episode is more focused on the love story than the threat of the outbreak, but it’s still an interesting deviation from the usual Bones formula.
5. Little House on the Prairie “Plague” 1.18 (1975). Cheap cornmeal leads to a typhus outbreak in Walnut Grove. Charles Ingalls and others rush to find the source of the epidemic. This episode has all the elements of a great epidemic storyline. There’s tension, drama, and mystery as the death toll rises, while we, as the audience learn early on of the scourge’s source. My favorite of the numerous “outbreak” Little House episodes.
4. Criminal Minds “Amplification” 4.24 (2009). A serial killer releases anthrax spores to test the hypothesis of his master’s thesis. The BAU must work with CDC and U.S. Army to stop the unsub before he kills with disease. It’s high stakes, especially after one of the team becomes infected.
3. ER “Lockdown” 8.22 (2002). Several members of the ER are quarantined after two children are brought in with a smallpox-like virus. These episodes give a nice balance of drama with humor, as the quarantined health professionals struggle to pass the time.
2. The Walking Dead “Infected” 4.2 (2013). Rick and the other survivors battle a strange virus that spreads throughout the prison. This episode is a nice break from the usual threats in TWD.
1. Star Trek “The Way to Eden” 3.20 (1969). Space hippies bring a bacterium aboard the Enterprise. Besides the outbreak threat, it’s a delightful and interesting demonstration of mainstream fears of counterculture.
These are just the highlights. Sure, I could have included more medical dramas or westerns, but I especially enjoy these storylines when they appear in genres you wouldn’t expect.
For more recommendations, see this IMDB list.