Fluorescent light weighs down on a young woman named Jenna as she pushes her cart through a grocery store. When she approaches one of the many refrigerator doors, she encounters a man standing in front of it, having a passive-aggressive argument on the phone about which creamer to buy. While she could say something, she elects instead to cast an uncomfortable look in the refrigerator’s general direction, as another shopper fills in to take the remainder of the groceries she came for. Defeated, Jenna laboriously spins her empty cart around and trudges away.
This scene is one of many from the new web series “Animal Warmth,” which was shot completely within the Boise area and deals with the theme of social anxiety. The series was created by Boise State alumni Josh Malan and Kirsten Strough, and is set to be released on Tuesday, Feb. 14—Valentine’s Day.
The story of “Animal Warmth” focuses on Jenna, a 20-something, socially-anxious artist who can’t seem to fit in. Over the course of seven episodes, the series follows her romantic misadventures and attempts to experience human connection while weathering the complicated feelings that come along with it.
“I wrote it because I am an introvert with social anxiety,” said co-creator Josh Malan. “The world isn’t always built for people who aren’t necessarily predisposed to putting themselves out there when it comes to dealing with other people.”
According to Associate Producer Danielle Lyon, the series relates to the struggles of many young people who are also trying to figure out how exactly they fit into a social, increasingly fast-paced world.
“It really speaks to college-age people dealing with the idea of a quarter-life crisis,” Lyon said. “People in their twenties are constantly saying ‘I don’t know what to do with my life, and I have no idea what’s going on.’”
Lyon, who also plays “Ally” in the show, went on to note it was natural for “Animal Warmth” to take on these themes, because the creators of the series started making films together while they were students at Boise State as members of the Dead 8 Film Club on campus.
“That’s probably where we did the most learning,” said Lyon. “Over the years, we made all kinds of small films. This series is the first large project we’ve done together completely independent of school.”
After graduating and leaving the Dead 8 Film Club, co-creator Kirsten spearheaded the creation of “Lady Les Bois,” the production company behind “Animal Warmth.” According to Malan, this was done partially as a result of an observation Strough made about the lack of options for women in the film industry.
“It’s crucial to provide women with an opportunity to work in their craft and for audiences to have access to content created by women,” Strough said.
Malan agreed, emphasizing the male-dominated nature of the industry.
“They both control production and tend to be the stars on screen,” Malan said. “Men take up most of the creative roles like editor and cinematographer—the more hands-on jobs. What Kirsten was trying to do with ‘Lady Les Bois’ was to start a production company that was geared toward empowering women to have those opportunities.”
Malan went on to mention while he himself is a man, he consulted heavily with Strough while writing the story. He specifically tried to write a female lead role that didn’t needlessly fill stereotypical roles, such as romance partner or sidekick.
While this focus on women played a prevalent role in the series’ production, inclusion of the LGBTQ community was also a large factor.
“LGBTQ film is really important to me,” Strough said. “Having grown up as a closeted lesbian in a rural Idaho community, TV and film was my only outlet to see a world beyond that town where I might one day feel safe and happy and be part of a supportive community.”
The team behind “Animal Warmth” made it a priority to provide a multi-faceted depiction of the LGBTQ community by giving special attention to avoiding stereotypes for those characters as well.
“We also wanted to include a unique representation of the LGBTQ community,” Malan said. “Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with this, but a lot of the fictional media about LGBTQ individuals is centered around sexuality. We wanted to do something different, take this character who just happens to be a lesbian and place her in a sort of buddy comedy role that would usually be a male character.”
This concept of using comedy as a tool is present throughout the series, as Malan and Lyon both expressed sentiment that the comedic elements help connect the audience to the heavier struggles of the characters.
“The nice thing about not being overly serious when talking about subject like discrimination and mental illness is it can make things more palatable,” Malan said. “We definitely don’t want to shy away from the pain in these scenarios, but introducing an element of fun into them lets the viewer take a sort of ownership over those moments.”
Students can find the series on “Lady Les Bois’” YouTube channel at youtube.com/ladylesbois.