Antisocial Distance is that unicorn everyone in TV seemed to be looking for last year: a legitimately great quarantine comedy. Through the lens of one therapist, characters are dealing with their issues over Zoom—but they’re also talking about religion, sexuality, and other meaningful topics, and doing it in a way that feels not only universal but almost more importantly, organic. You don’t realize that it’s affected you until you’ve stopped laughing.
The series is the brainchild of star, writer, comedian and otherwise multi-hyphenate Avital Ash, who recently connected with me to talk about making a series through the digital world (it’s a lot harder than you think), how she assembled her excellent cast that includes Steven Weber (Chicago Med) and Rose McIver (iZombie), and what she’s hoping audiences take away from the series.
You can start watching Antisocial Distance now for free right here. Trust me—it’s the best thing you can do with your weekend.
Brittany Frederick: How did you come up with the specific idea for Antisocial Distance? Because you’ve worked in the web series space before, so this is not a new medium for you.
Avital Ash: I did a web series like six years ago that was basically a Zoom quarantine series before quarantine. Only it was Skype and it was totally borne of limitations, being a frustrated actor and writer who just wasn’t getting hired. So I did it because it cost no money. And then it ended up inspiring two pilots at CBS, which was awesome, even if I wasn’t as involved as I’d like to be…so it’s not my first time working in this medium. It feels like we were sort of ahead of our time with that series, and the constraints I’d already worked with were so perfect for where we are now.
And I’m always trying to keep creatively sharp in a bunch of areas. I’m working on a pilot, a novel, auditioning, doing standup at virtual shows. I’ve acted in other people’s Zoom projects. Hopefully bringing back the horror podcast soon.
All that is to say, it felt like there’s another way to use this format to tell a more evolved story and a more complex story than we did before. This has been a lot more work. It’s funny, because last time I was like, “This is kind of the easiest way you can do something.” Right? There’s no lighting. There’s no score. There’s no cinematography. It’s just like this is what you see, and this is what you get. And of course it was harder than I would have imagined, but then this one is even harder. I don’t know why I’m still surprised every time.
BF: I did want to ask about that, because a Zoom series is almost deceptively simple. What does it actually take, logistically, to do a series like this?
AA: For the first series, the actors were in the same house. So that made it a lot easier in terms of just like internet connection and lag. It was basically cheating. But then this one really is…we’re all quarantined, and shooting has evolved. You may notice some of the episodes look different than others, because we’d be on video chat on my laptop, but I’d have my phone propped around here and you’d do the same and we’d be recording on that so I could get the higher quality video.
But it was a problem for multiple reasons. One, the sound issue because you’re still getting the computer hum. And two, I think part of what works is that you’re reacting to each other in real time. As an actor, that’s huge. But I’m like, “Oh, I want to see that part of your room,” or “Show me your dog,” I could point the phone-camera, and you could see me doing that on the laptop and sort of pretend you were reacting to whatever it is, but you couldn’t actually see it. So a bunch of them were done that way, and it doesn’t sound as good, but it usually looks a little better.
Then I started doing this, where I would record the Zoom, and we’d each record our audio with voice memos. Then I’m syncing all of that. I’ve been editing for a long time—which I love editing, it’s probably my favorite part—but this is the first time I’ve learned how to edit multicam. So that’s been really exciting and new for me. I basically would turn this into three different videos. One that’s the two of us, one that’s just your frame and one that’s my frame and then I’m bouncing around between them.
BF: So you have the idea and the logistics in place, but how did you assemble this cast? Was it mutual connections or a casting process? Because names like Steven Weber and Rose McIver, that’s an impressive (and also eclectic) group of people.
AA: [Clark Duke] was doing a pilot presentation for TBS. This is probably four years ago now, and he saw that Skype series 7p/10e and wrote this part with me in mind, which is the best. But there was no money. It was like, if it goes to series, great, then I’m a regular on a TV show. Which it did not do. But the other leads, it was me, Clark Duke, Chris Candy—who’s lovely, just like the sweetest in the world—and Steven Weber, who’s always fantastic.
We met on that pilot that never got picked up and became a short film, and I asked [Steven] to be in this, and thankfully he was down, which is great. And it is a thing—even when you’re friendly with people, it just helps for the next person I ask when I say “Steven Weber’s in it.” So it sort of snowballs.
BF: Are there aspects of Antisocial Distance that you particularly want people to pay attention to, or that stand out to you creatively?
AA: I think that it can be easy to miss, but I do think my character Josephine is sort of weaponizing some of her accommodating nature and sometimes taking advantage of people—clearly from a place of being hurt and confused, not malicious, but also like… not great. Whereas with 7p/10e, I think my character was just more one-dimensional, kind of great and sweet and honest. This is definitely a much more flawed character, but I don’t know that people see that right away.
There are a lot of little references that I love, that I don’t know if people will catch. The very last episode is called “Tea and Oranges,” which is a reference to “Suzanne,” one of Leonard Cohen’s songs. I don’t know if people put together what it means. Oranges are a big metaphor for me in this series, but we never get into it explicitly. With the Seder plate, there are all the things that traditionally go on there, and then some people add or replace one with an orange for LGBTQIA+ and women’s rights. It’s not grounded in the Orthodox traditions, the way I grew up, but it feels like a feminist statement to me. So I really like using the color orange and having actual oranges factor in. There are also deliberate choices about location, which room Josephine is in at what time and why.
BF: The series is genuinely hilarious, but it’s also genuinely affecting. Especially in the current creative climate where there are so many timely issues, but some audiences want more of an escape from those issues, how do you balance the comedy with talking about serious subjects in a full and thoughtful way?
AA: I don’t have a formula, just sort of intuition. With this [series], it feels like an exploration, and a huge shift for me in my career. I always thought that I was a dramatic actor, and people laugh when I’m trying to do serious scenes. I’ve just started to own that more and be like, “Yes, I was trying to be funny. This is intended to be a comedy, of course.” I think that that just comes out naturally. I don’t know if that’s Jewish stuff or just tons of trauma, but I tend to make light of things and make people laugh even when it’s pretty heavy.
BF: Considering that we’re still not back to normal, Antisocial Distance could conceivably keep going. Did you conceive it as a finite project for the lockdown period, or have you thought about revisiting these characters later on?
AA: Both, which I guess is a weird way to answer. I’m not thinking beyond this right now just because I’m trying to get this done, but I’ve had ideas of where these characters could go and where the story could go. It’s so much work that if nobody is paying me, I don’t know if I would do a second season. If people love it—which would be great if people see it and respond to it—and I can monetize it somehow, fund a second season that way.
But it is a lot of work. Livia [Trevino], we became friends over Instagram and her help has been enormous. She designed the website, all the thumbnails, and has also been an amazing creative sounding board. It could have really been a one-man job and now it’s more of a two man job, thankfully, but it’s still so much. I think if we had a little more help and/or I could just do it without feeling like I also need to be auditioning and trying to get staffed in a writer’s room and book a commercial and all of the other things to qualify for health insurance…then I’d keep going.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.