Antisocial Distance: How women powered an inclusive, hilarious web series

Avital Ash, photo credit: Phil Chester Photography/Courtesy of Avital Ash
Avital Ash, photo credit: Phil Chester Photography/Courtesy of Avital Ash /

Antisocial Distance is a brilliant web series, but that’s just one reason why it’s awesome.

The show is hilarious; it’s the funniest take on the isolation caused by COVID-19 in any medium. Star Avital Ash has created a series where it’s not just okay to laugh at the last year, it feels good to do so—and where we find humor and joy in things that can be uncomfortable. Like spirituality, religion, and sexuality. While Josephine tries to avoid all those things, we end up embracing more about them.

That’s an accomplishment on its own, but the story of how Antisocial Distance was made is just as important as the finished product. The series is beautifully diverse, with representation from both the LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities, and characters that do those communities justice. It’s the kind of material all of Hollywood is striving for.

And it’s also an example of female empowerment. Avital isn’t just the star of the series; she’s also the creator, writer, editor, director and co-producer. She and co-producer Livia Treviño spoke about how the series was created, what it means to them, and some of their favorite stories from production. Get to know Avital and Livia in this interview, then watch Antisocial Distance for free online at the series website or on YouTube.

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Culturess: First of all, there’s an interesting story as to how you two began working together in the first place. How did you connect?

Livia Treviño: I followed Avital on Instagram. She posted on her story; I think it was just general, can you come help where I’m filming my series? It was the last series that she did called Thirsty, and I think the two things that she needed was somebody that could help on set and somebody that lives in Los Angeles. I’m neither of those, but I was like “Oh, this is an opportunity to offer my services,” which is typically social media and design. I just wanted more experience…But she responded, and that’s how it started. I think you were filming. So we didn’t talk for maybe like a week or two.

Avital Ash: I remember being on set for a Women’s Weekend Film Challenge short—it’s a whole female crew, writers, director, editor, cast, which was really fun. I went straight from shooting Thirsty into that. And I remember being on set for it, at this beautiful mansion, and checking my DM’s from Livia when you first sent me the mockup of the hot pink “Thirsty” on the image. I was like, “Oh, this looks good.”

And then I think I had an idea, and you rolled with it so fast, like “That’s a great idea.” It just felt collaborative really quickly. Then it felt weird to be like, “Oh, this girl is just like doing me favors for nothing.” I felt like I want to get to know who this person is, and I remember asking you some questions about yourself. That led to us exchanging really long emails for months. They’d be about work, but then also about her cat Ari and my dog Luke, and I’d learn about your siblings, and Sebastian, your partner, and your podcast. It just kept snowballing from there.

LT: I would tell my family what I was doing and they’re like, “Wait, what, who is this?” I was just so surprised that you were so collaborative, and that you were like, “Oh, just do whatever.” And I was like, “Oh, f–k, what does that mean? What do I do?” (laughs) I think we were just very surprised by how easy it was from the get go. And it just kept going on.

AA: It’s nice because we agree a lot. But even when we don’t, we’re poking at why we’re disagreeing, and finding the stronger choice, hopefully.

Livia Treviño. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Livia Treviño.)
Livia Treviño. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Livia Treviño.) /

Culturess: Antisocial Distance is so diverse; it’s a female-led series with characters who are LGBTQ, who are characters of color. Did you intentionally set out to be that inclusive, or was that how the series developed through the creative process?

AA: Female-driven stories have always been my thing, probably because that’s the perspective I can speak to. I also feel very lucky in that I know some incredibly talented trans performers that I can cast in roles that aren’t specifically about their transness. And then with some of the BIPOC, it was written with those people in mind.

Ellington [Wells], who plays Amber, does have this spontaneous, erratic, can’t-pin-down energy, which really worked for a chick who’s a f–kboy for my character, to put me in my place a little bit. Asha, who plays Jasmine, is a very talented writer who’s also interested in acting, and doesn’t get to do it a ton. She’s also into Tarot, but is very grounded; she’s not what I imagine as the stereotypical person who’s into Tarot. So I thought it would be fun if her reading is really on the money, but my character is still just dismissive of it, and then to bring her back in a more meaningful way later.

It was very much written for specific people. I had a lot of doubt about if any of this was even worth doing. And Livia, thankfully, kept pushing and being like, “No, this is good. I really like this. Keep going.”

Culturess: While it showcases these underrepresented communities, Antisocial Distance also has a very broad appeal to everyone, too. How did you tell these specific stories yet make them accessible to so many people?

AA: As a woman, or for Livia as a woman and person of color, we are at a disadvantage to start. So anything that you can exploit to get people to pay attention…and then hopefully the work is good, and that’s what they’re left with. That’s the taste that’s left in their mouth. That’s the bigger deal. But I’m not above using anything to get people to watch, or read, or listen, or whatever the case may be.

LT: If somebody is drawn to it because it is a female-led production, fantastic. Then they’ll learn more about other things. The reason I love it so much is because it’s very specific.  It’s a story about a woman, but it’s a story about a Jewish woman. It’s a story about a bisexual woman, a woman that grew up in an oppressively religious household. It’s so many things that so many people can relate to. I feel like anybody can find something that they relate to. Even if they come in saying, “Oh, I’m a huge Rose McIver fan, so I want to watch it,” think they still get pulled into the story itself.

AA: I think the fact that you related, Livia, was really encouraging, because you didn’t grow up Jewish, and you’re not queer, but the feelings are relatable. Most of our audience right now is male, which is fascinating. And so many of the comments are like, this made me cry. There’s something fun about this unexpected male 18 to 34-year-old audience being like, I cried watching your Zoom series.

LT: I also think it speaks very succinctly and delicately about the overall setting during COVID. Everybody has been having to deal with COVID. It comes in different ways, and maybe it doesn’t reflect exactly what Josephine went through in the series, but it’s still something that everybody can recognize that she’s going through. I think that’s the big thing that brings everybody together, is that part of it.

Culturess: What are your favorite stories from the production of Antisocial Distance? Especially doing this virtually on such a small budget during a pandemic.

AA: When we were trying to put together a press release, my mom has experience with some Jewish press, so she was like, I can help out. And then based on what she knew about this series, she just did a sample release that said, Avital brings to this series her experiences with Orthodox Judaism, and Livia is coming to terms with her bisexuality. So then I came out to my mom in the most buried way possible. (laughs)

Another fun thing, was the episodes are short. Sometimes they would take longer to film, and I really cut them down. But they were generally a short to 10 to 20 minutes of recording. I asked Steven Weber to be a part of it and, once he said yes, I realized there’s not a great difference in terms of demands on his time if I have him for 10 minutes versus 30 minutes. That was really fun, running with it and being able to give him more of an arc. He’s so great that it was like, why not have more of him?

Making the emojis together was a real highlight for me too.

LT: The icons.

AA: I was thinking about how all of the things that go on the Seder plate could be little emojis because there’s an egg, there’s a shank bone, there’s wine—well, the wine doesn’t go on the Seder plate, but is just a Passover thing. I did a very crude version, just like drawing in Preview, and then Livia made them for real and more legit. They’re on the website, but nobody really notices them.

LT: They’re just for us. I have learned just a ton about Passover. And I tried very hard to put some Hebrew on the website. That was fun, to learn about that…That was the important part to me. I want to get it right, and it’s not something that I’ve grown up knowing. Even if it’s within icons, or even just writing copy for social media, if I’m going to portray a certain very important thing, or culture, or religion, then I want to get it right. And I want to be respectful. So that was very, very important to me.

AA: Something that was really cool was, I get insecure about these lines [on my forehead] because women’s rage is criminalized. Men get these frown lines, and we think it’s cool, but it’s unacceptable for women to look angry. I’ve had bangs for a long time, and I can hide them. And I do an episode with Ellington, who plays Amber, talking about how I feel that I need my bangs to soften my face, and make me look less severe.

She’s like, “Who told you that?” And I’m like “I don’t know. I just think that.” Then I did an episode with Jessie [Kahnweiler], who plays my sister, and unprompted, Jessie is like, “Oh, I like your bangs. They make you look less severe.” Now it feels like canon that my character got it from her sister or from her family. Jessie didn’t know; she hadn’t seen the [other] episode. But I registered it like, “Oh, that’s a crazy tie-in to the story that already exists.”

Culturess: Antisocial Distance tackles important subjects, like religion and sexuality, that can also be very sensitive for some people. Were you concerned about how people would receive the episodes themselves?

AA: I was less worried about what might offend other people and what might trigger them, and more like, what does this mean in terms of talking more openly about my own sexuality, which even if I were identifying as just straight as an arrow, I would feel uncomfortable talking about it. The way that I’m brought up, we don’t talk about sex. Even just to talk about a sexual preference, let alone an orientation that is anything other than perfectly straight, was scary. It was like, do I have to have conversations with family? I was a little more worried about that.

My one fear, I guess, is that people would take something I said and try to point out how I was wrong or I wasn’t giving the whole picture…That people would take one thing that I said, and turn it into, she’s saying this about everybody. I’m talking about my specific experience, and what I’ve learned, and how it’s affected me.

LT: As somebody on the outside, I would say the stakes for me are almost non-existent because it’s not my story. I’m trying to uplift somebody else’s. But what I would say if people were offended—we can’t really control that, for one. Two, I think if you truly are offended by anything in this series, I don’t think you should be looking at what Avital is trying to say. I think you need to look at the institutions that have made her feel that way. Because she’s telling her truth. If you’re offended by that, then there’s a lot of unpacking that you have to do. It’s not up to her.

AA: I forgot about this because it is such an institutionalized thing, but I was worried about there are shows like Mad Men, where the protagonist is cheating left and right, and it’s no big deal. You still like them as an antihero. My character is in quarantine; she’s not physically meeting up with anyone, but she is two-timing. And I was worried people would hate her, and not be able to get on board. That was a concern. That men are allowed to behave badly, but women aren’t. I thought that might be an issue, and I’m glad to see that it hasn’t really been.

Culturess: Now that Antisocial Distance is out, and you’ve been able to tell your truths and as you’ve said, reach such a wide audience, do you feel like people are getting some of the things you were talking about? Not just liking the show, but actually affecting viewers?

LT: Some of the comments, how specific they are is crazy. I think there’s a couple where it’s almost verbatim what I would tell her. There’s a specific episode I’m thinking of that Avital was pretty nervous about the reception of it, and there was one comment that went point by point of almost everything I told her I loved about that episode when I first saw it.

AA: There have been a lot of specifics of “I was looking for a dog at the start of quarantine,” or “I live in Italy and this reminds me of when everything first shut down,” or “I really like the friendship between Josephine and Margot for this, and this, and this reason,” and it’s a lot of subtleties. And I have gotten a couple of comments from people saying “I just watched for the second time, and I caught so much that I didn’t catch the first time.” That always feels really nice because it’s like all the little things pay off and you liked it enough to watch it again; that’s awesome.

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Antisocial Distance is now streaming online; you can watch the complete series here.