With the way the world has been functioning over the past few years, sometimes an apocalypse brought on by a viral outbreak all over the world suddenly doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.
We’re pretty lucky we’ve gotten through the worst of it and to some extent, the world has regained some semblance of ‘normal’.
Now, books, movies, and TV shows about pandemics hardly seem fictional (barring those that take it to a supernatural place, like zombies!).
Of course, we always hope that it will remain fictional, just like the shows on this list of the best TV shows about virus outbreaks!
Let’s check them out.
Helix, Syfy (2014 – 2015)
Syfy brings the science fiction horror series Helix, which aired over two seasons before it was canceled by the network.
It follows a team of scientists from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) who are sent to investigate an outbreak in the Arctic.
They discover that the company funding the research there was spearheading some kind of genetic engineering project with dire consequences for the rest of the world.
When the experiment goes wrong, even more secrets are uncovered about the goal of the disease outbreak and the intentions of the people behind its creation.
Containment, The CW (2016)
The CW’s Containment is a limited series based on the Belgian TV show Cordon.
The series begins with one man with a highly contagious virus infecting several of those around him, leading to a portion of Atlanta being cordoned off to prevent further of the disease.
Officer Lex Carnahan is asked to maintain the peace on the outside of the containment area, but things become complicated for him when he realizes that his girlfriend and best friend are on the inside.
Distrust begins to grow between the citizens and the officials, and the truth about the outbreak slowly rises to the surface.
The Strain, FX (2014 – 2017)
The Strain is a horror series from Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan based on their series of novels of the same name.
Right from the get-go, the series brings with it the touch of the supernatural.
It starts when an airplane lands and everyone on board is found to be dead; an investigation is launched, of course, headed by the CDC’s head of the Canary Project, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather.
What he and his team find on the plane is a virus outbreak similar to an ancient form of vampirism, and they must fight to save humanity against its spread.
12 Monkeys, Syfy (2015 – 2018)
Loosely based on the 1995 film of the same name, Syfy’s 12 Monkeys is a sci-fi drama with a premise revolving around time travel.
In 2043, James Cole is recruited by scientists to travel back in time to 2015 and prevent the release of a deadly virus that wiped out 7 billion people in 2017.
After time traveling, Cole seeks help from virologist Dr. Cassie Railly, whose moral conflict lies in having to perform harm for the greater good.
Together, they try to get to the bottom of the truth about the Army of the 12 Monkeys, the organization behind the viral outbreak.
The Last Ship, TNT (2014 – 2018)
Post-apocalyptic drama from TNT titled The Last Ship is very appropriately titled, considering the main setting for the five-season series is on a ship out at sea with some of humanity’s last remaining people – and possibly its last hope, too.
The USS Nathan James is on a journey to the Arctic when its captain and 218-person crew learns that a global pandemic has wiped out 80% of the population.
The chance of a cure lies with them and virologist Dr. Rachel Scott, so they choose to remain at sea to develop a vaccine.
The Stand, CBS All Access (2020 – 2021)
Anything from Stephen King is bound to be a masterpiece and the TV adaptation of his 1978 novel The Stand is no exception.
After an accident at a biological research facility run by the military, a lethal virus is released and kills off almost the entire population.
Only a handful of survivors are left, and two central figures emerge: Mother Abigail, a 108-year-old woman with prophetic visions who lead the others toward the path of good, and Randall Flagg, who is determined to wreak havoc.
The Island, ZDF (2020)
The Island is a joint German-Danish production that aired over one season.
The original title, Sløborn, is a play on “slow burn” which hints not at the pacing of the show but at how the viral outbreak slowly permeates the lives of citizens on a seemingly idyllic island.
An epidemic is spreading throughout the mainland but they are confident in their isolation until a rogue sailing boat with mummified bodies carrying the disease washes up on their shore.
The series chronicles the changes that take over as they try to still live as normally as possible.
Between, City/Netflix (2015 – 2016)
Canadian science fiction series Between ran over two seasons; though it was never officially canceled, a third season has yet to come to fruition.
The series is set in a small town called Pretty Lake where a mysterious disease has spread and killed everyone older than 21.
The government has quarantined a small area and left the remaining survivors – essentially teenagers and young adults – to fend for themselves.
This includes protagonist Wiley Day, a pregnant teenager whose plans to leave the town are now at a standstill.
Anna, Sky Italia (2021)
Anna is the second foreign language series on the list, hailing from Italy and based on the novel of the same name written by award-winning Italian author Niccolò Ammaniti.
Though with only six episodes (reduced from eight after production was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic), Anna tells a story of a 13-year-old Sicilian girl who does everything she can to protect her younger brother as they hide out in their family home.
Like Between, a mysterious disease has wiped out all the adults on their island.
Survivors, BBC One (2008 – 2010)
Survivors is a British science fiction series based on Terry Nation’s novel of the same name that was written after the series, also titled Survivors, aired its first season in 1970.
In the series, we meet the characters already in the aftermath of a devastating pandemic.
It’s referred to as the ‘European flu’ and it targets the body’s immune system, effectively wiping out most of the population.
Now, the survivors struggle to survive in a society with no government, no law enforcement, and no rules.
To The Lake, Netflix (2019)
Another foreign language series on this list of best TV shows about virus outbreaks is titled To The Lake, this time coming from Russia.
Similarly to Anna, the show’s first season is based on the novel by Yana Vagner, Vongozero.
It follows a family who, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t be spending time together in close quarters.
However, they’re forced to overcome their family troubles and fight to make it to a refuge ship on a deserted island in order to survive against the deadly virus that has spread throughout Moscow and killed the infected within days.
Arctic Circle, Elisa Viihde/Yle (2018)
The Finnish-German series Arctic Circle is a little different from the others in that the virus in question has yet to spread and in fact, we’re starting it with Patient Zero – the source of the virus.
As a crime drama series, Arctic Circle does begin with an investigation: Nina Kautsalo, a Finnish police officer, responds to a call and finds an abducted and nearly dead woman in the basement of a cabin in the wilderness.
She seems to be infected with a mysterious disease, so German virologist Thomas Lorenz is called in to assist and find a solution to prevent its spread.
The Hot Zone, National Geographic (2019 – present)
Like Arctic Circle, National Geographic’s The Hot Zone is a drama anthology series with two seasons (and no news yet on a third).
Unlike most of the previous shows, The Hot Zone focuses on very real viruses that have affected our world.
The first season is set in 1989 and deals with the Ebola virus; Army scientist Nancy Jaax detects the presence of the ebolavirus in monkeys and races against time to prevent its outbreak.
The second season focuses on the 2001 Anthrax attacks and the effects of bioweaponry.
ReGenesis, The Movie Network/Movie Central (2004 – 2008)
ReGenesis is a four-season science fiction series that deals with a lot of concepts in the biotech industry that we’ve become familiar with: bioterrorism, cloning, genetic engineering, and yes, mysterious diseases.
As opposed to centering on just one viral outbreak, as the other shows here have done, ReGenesis focuses on the North American Biotechnology Advisory Commission, a fictional organization composed of scientists from all fields.
NorBAC, as it’s called, deals with scientific issues to prevent them from harming the population.
Outbreak, TVA (2020)
Last but not least is the Canadian series Outbreak (or Épidémie in the original French), which ran over just 10 episodes.
A mysterious and deadly disease has begun to spread throughout a group of vulnerable homeless people, and they are powerless to do anything except watch it slowly infect them all.
The local Emergency Public Health Laboratory has yet to discover its existence and by the time they do, it’s up to its director and infectious disease specialist Anne-Marie Leclerc to stop it from becoming an epidemic.