Trying to go on with the day to day responsibilities of everyday life can be a bit of a challenge for people who suffer from social anxiety disorder, depression and panic attacks – it’s an even greater challenge trying to live a public life while beset with those difficulties. That dilemma is faced courageously and humorously by Scott Barnes (played by Nathan Emilio), the protagonist of the comedy web series ISSUES.

Created by series co-star Matt Wade, ISSUES’ first season of 8 episodes is now streaming via its official show page, along with the Hampton Roads, Virginia-based web series network Channel 757 and on its official Youtube page. The first two episodes have already aired, with the third set to air next weekend. In addition, the remaining six episodes of season 1 will air every two weeks.

Emilio plays Scott, a man whose severe depression and social anxiety make his personal and public life extremely awkward and painful despite the fact that he’s gone into business for himself as the owner of Back Issues Comics, his own comic book store. Heavily into geek and pop culture, his encounters with the store’s customers often prove to be uncomfortable for both him and those he meets. Making things even more tough for Scott is his self-centered brother Nate (played by Wade), who also works at the store and who constantly goes out of his way to game the system in his favor.

The cast also includes Vera Yatsula as Katie Halperin, a new employee at the comic book store who quickly asserts her authority over the two brothers, and Kris Shrader as Joe Pennechetti, the owner of a sports memorabilia store that’s located next to Back Issues. Along with being Scott’s archenemy, Joe doesn’t like or understand why anyone (especially men) would be the least bit interested in comic books and toys, and his main mission in life is to make Back Issues go out of business.

While mental illness has been portrayed in various movies, TV series (and a few web series), ISSUES tries to put a more realistic face on the problems those who suffer from it encounter on a daily basis. As Wade explains, the series’ portrayal of those challenges is one of many things that set it apart from most web series that focus on the same subject. “I wanted to put together a web show that was character driven, and didn’t feature a bunch of beautiful people hanging around discussing their problems with dating and hair products. Nothing out there that I have seen accurately represents what it’s like to suffer with anxiety issues,” he says.

Adds Wade: “Not everyone with mental health problems are manic or psychopathic or loud or dangerous. This was my way to shed light on the subject in a humorous way and at the same time throw in all the things that me and my friends enjoy like superheroes, comics, toys, movies…all through authentic looking locations and cast. Name another show with two overweight guys in lead roles; probably aren’t that many out there.”

ISSUES also stands apart from other web series comedies because of its emphasis on strong, relatable and realistic characters. “It would be easy to just make a show that was joke after joke and stuffed with pop culture references (not that we don’t have both of those) but I want to make these characters into people that viewers can watch and relate. There are lots of shows that feature self-assured dudes looking cool, but the gang on ISSUES often look stupid, or do the wrong thing. They’re awkward and that’s what ultimately sets us apart. ISSUES isn’t afraid to be awkward and uncomfortable,” Wade adds.

As is the case with all web series, it’s the collective work of cast and crew that makes the difference. While the production process always begins with creating a unique and memorable world on the written page, that’s just the first step towards bringing the story to life. For Wade, finding actors to bring life to the characters of ISSUES was a task made easier in large part because he knew them and their talents. “The cast was found through their previous work. Each person was handpicked because of their talent and their potential. Everyone says comedy is hard but I find that if you cast funny people then a lot of the work is already done,” he says.

An actual functioning comic book store doubled as the fictional Back Issue Comics during filming of ISSUES, but despite the obvious convenience of the setting, there were some challenges that had to be faced. “(The production process was) long days trying to light an old comic book store to neutralize fluorescent bulbs. We also film while the store is open which leads to a lot of creativity when it comes to avoiding blown takes,” Wade says. It also provided them plenty of opportunity to take a loose and fun approach to their performances. “We also encourage improv, so a lot of the time takes devolve into trying to make another actor break character and laugh,” adds Wade.

While nothing’s certain as of yet for subsequent seasons of ISSUES, Wade’s already mapped out the show’s continuing storyline. “Artistically I already have the main story arcs for season 2 and 3, so I really hope that we get to produce what I have planned for these guys,” he says. Yet, he also hopes that this season will be memorable for the show’s viewers. “I want to add an emotional gut check at the end of season 1 that I don’t think people will see coming. Hopefully we’ll successfully blend the lighthearted moments with the more dramatic themes,” Wade adds.

Described as a “geeky version of LOUIE (the popular FX comedy starring comedian Louis C.K.)”, ISSUES is a comedy that doesn’t just rely on laughs to be effective. In fact, it’s much more than that. It’s a web series that has characters who are just like us, with their own problems and concerns, and with their own unique quirks and interests. It’s a show that proves that no matter how different we all are as people, and no matter what problems we face, we’re all hoping to make the best of life and to be the best we can be.

Says Wade: “…Just because someone suffers from mental health disorders doesn’t mean that they can’t be productive members of society. I think that’s the main theme of the show. There are a lot of people that society deems weird or outside the norm, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t awesome.”

(Note: ISSUES is not currently closed captioned, but Wade says he is working to add that feature to further episodes of the series.)





TWITTER: @IssuesWebShow