They’re ugly. They’re creepy. They cause incredible damage to homes and immeasurable pain to people. They’re bugs, and although they’re not exactly the most beloved members of the animal kingdom, the insect population still requires as much care from their human counterparts as any other class of wildlife does. The insect caretakers of the new comedy series Deliver Ants aren’t appreciated or respected by society either, but then their unfortunate reputations as petty criminals precede them.

However, even the worst crooks are worthy of a second chance, and that’s why the once-financially secure owner of a bug farm (Lily, played by Rachel Wotherspoon) offers a new lease on life to five parolees whose freedom depends on how well they do their jobs – and whose employment depends on whether they can keep the cash flowing for themselves and their boss.

Brought together by both Lily’s work release program (a.k.a. the title of this show) and the needs of those who use insects for purposes other than biting people or infesting homes, the farm’s idiosyncratic staff is headed by their no-nonsense supervisor Willie (played by Deliver Ants co-creator/co-writer Mykell Barlow). Besides trying to accomplish the everyday task of keeping Lily’s business moving efficiently, he also serves as a de facto den father to his co-workers.

The motley crew of DELIVER ANTS. Standing, L-R: co-stars Naveed Mardi, Mykell Barlow (also the co-writer/co-creator of the series), Sean James and Evan Strand. Sitting, L-R: co-stars Mark Swanson and Rachel Wotherspoon.

The cast of DELIVER ANTS. Standing, L-R: co-stars Naveed Mardi, Mykell Barlow (also the co-writer/co-creator of the series), Sean James and Evan Strand. Sitting, L-R: co-stars Mark Swenson and Rachel Wotherspoon.

This wacky quartet includes the cunning and charming thief Roosevelt (Naveed Mardi), the kindly ex-carjacker Bubbles (Sean James), his cell block bestie/pyromaniac/sweetheart Fern (Evan Strand), and the extravagant yet mysterious ham actor Gorgeous George (Mark Swenson).

Cut off by her rich parents, the formerly trust fund-tethered Lily hopes her employees can rebuild their lives while rebuilding her pocketbook by hook or by crook.

Directed and co-created by Justin Patten, and streaming its first four episodes on YouTube (link below), Deliver Ants’ creative inspiration (and introductory financial backing) came from a rather familial source.

“My mom pitched us the original idea of a bug farm and ex-cons. We took it from there, finding characters and story points and figuring out how it should be shot. We love comedies so it was exciting trying to write one, especially since our previous endeavors (including their work on 202: The Series) have been pretty dramatic.”

Deliver Ants follows in the footsteps of such classic ensemble workplace comedies as The Office and Parks and Recreation, current genre hits like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Superstore, and character-centered shows like 2 Broke Girls, New Girl and I Love Lucy. Produced in the popular “mockumentary” format, Deliver Ants has the same reliable ingredients found in shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation – offbeat characters, an on-the-job setting, and funny situations.

As Barlow and Patten say of Deliver Ants, though, its unusual comedic elements – bugs and crooks – are the engines that power this outlandish sitcom. “Both of those worlds (insect farming and ex-convicts) are ripe with strange characters (you) wouldn’t normally see in a show, especially (in) a comedy,” notes Patten. “This will allow us to come up with some really off-the-wall (type) scenarios and challenge us to keep the main characters relatable. As strange as things could get, we want the audience to know they’re safe with Lily and the gang.”

“I think some of the funniest things are when you put a person in a situation they would normally never be in, like best friends who are polar opposites or a small town hick living in New York City. It’s comedy gold and I think we have that here,” adds Barlow. “Ex-cons and insects is such a fresh idea. It shouldn’t work, but it does.”

Rachel Wotherspoon co-stars in DELIVER ANTS as the insect aficionado/bug farm operator Lily.

Rachel Wotherspoon co-stars in DELIVER ANTS as the insect aficionado/bug farm work release program operator Lily.

Further strengthening the concept of Deliver Ants and every other workplace comedy is, of course, its characters. In crafting the show’s individual personalities, Barlow and Patten took care to create people whose goofiness would endear them to the show’s viewers as much as their differences did.

“As we brainstormed characters, we talked about what would be funny and what kind of people clash in workplace environments,” says Barlow. “I had a lot of fun discovering who these characters are. It’s my belief that characters are the meat and potatoes of a comedy. We wanted a lovably weird group.”

While Deliver Ants’ characters match the common archetypes one would expect to find in any given comedy, the contrasts between each of the show’s protagonists is but one thing that makes each episode a side-splitting experience. “Bubbles was always going to be a big guy with a small name and at one point we called him ‘Tiny’ but that was a bit too on-the-nose,” Patten explains. “George was a fun idea because we were already drawing attention to the camera, (so) why not have a character that really played into that?”

Barlow’s strait-laced character is a big part of Deliver Ants, but its origins hit close to home for the actor. “Willie was very loosely based on my grandfather, whose name is (also) Willie. He was a no-nonsense blue collar guy like the character (I play). In fact, the shirt I’m wearing throughout the series belonged to my grandfather when he worked as a attendant at a Chevron (gas station) in the ‘80s.”

On the set of DELIVER ANTS.

Justin Patten (center right, in foreground) directs an episode of DELIVER ANTS.

In producing Deliver Ants, Barlow and Patten made the most of three limited yet invaluable resources: time, money and setting.

“We got it done, like the little engine that could,” says Barlow. “(We spent) 14-15 hours a day just trying to shoot as much of the script as we could. Thankfully, most of our series takes place in the warehouse so there was no need to move locations. This warehouse is down the street from our house, so it was the perfect location.”

While production of Deliver Ants and many other shows is understandably in limbo due to the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, Barlow and Patten remain determined to keep the hilarity going through their series. “We definitely want to make more (episodes),” Patten responds. “Right now we are trying to see what people think and what direction we need to take. We have so many stories in mind.”

Barlow and Patten also hope that Deliver Ants can crawl its way into the living rooms of primetime-level audiences. “We (Mykell and I) both want the show to be big,” Patten says. “I think it has the potential to be big and we would be doing it a disservice not to try (to make it big). It would be great to have it on a network for a larger audience to enjoy.”

“I would just love to build a loyal audience around it, (and) make it a calling card for what we are capable of without unlimited resources,” adds Barlow. “The hope is that networks, investors, and production companies would begin to entrust us with more (projects).”

NOTE: Regarding closed-captioning of Deliver Ants, Patten says: “Currently the show is not closed-captioned but we are working on it. We want to make sure as many people can enjoy the show as possible.”

Watch all 5 episodes of Deliver Ants on YouTube:

Deliver Ants show Instagram: @deliverantstheseries

Mykell’s Instagram/Twitter: @officialmykell

Justin’s Instagram/Twitter: @justin_aga@justin_aga