‘The Bite’ Team Previews Complicated Relationships While Facing a Deadly Virus & Zombies

The Bite Audra McDonald Taylor Schilling Rachel Lily
Spectrum Originals/CBS Studios

What if COVID led to zombies? That’s what Robert and Michelle King (EvilThe Good Wife) ask in their new six-part series, The Bite (premiering on May 21 on Spectrum).

“Michelle and I thought we would probably end up doing some kind of Zoom show with couples that were married or significant others because they could act together, but we knew there would be all these relationship shows where people were talking about their relationships or doing something boring,” Robert King tells TV Insider. “And we don’t like being bored.”

So, they decided to challenge themselves, with the goals of making a show based over Zoom “that played into a genre that is familiar and comments in some way on the pandemic,” he continues. “It had almost all the elements of a zombie apocalypse, but without zombies.”

“We [also] wanted to do a show that you could make during a pandemic and have everyone remain safe,” Michelle King adds.

“We like having shows that comment on current events, whatever the current events are. Whenever people think that way, they usually think of something that will bore them,” Robert King says. “We love using genre elements to clarify what we think otherwise could be tedious. Also, we’re great fans of the zombie genre.”

Read on to get to know the characters — and their complicated relationships — at the heart of The Bite‘s pandemic.

Who’s Trying to Stop the Virus?

Officially, the “Dr. Fauci-esque character” of Dr. Zach Deraux (as Steven Pasquale calls his role) and White House liaison and spokesperson Cyndi Estereo (Phillipa Soo) are the ones working with the CDC to figure out just what’s going on with the deadly new strain of a virus. This puts their characters in “a very intense pressure cooker of a few days,” according to Pasquale.

The Bite Phillipa Soo Steven Pasquale Cyndi Zach

Spectrum Originals/CBS Studios

Zach and Cyndi’s journey “is about processing the information that we have and trying to figure out how we give that information to the public and how much of that information and trying to navigate this pandemic and the second wave of the pandemic,” Soo says.

Zach’s wife Dr. Rachel Boutella (Audra McDonald) is looking at this virus in a more unofficial capacity. She “goes all out to try and get people to believe her that there is a new weird variant or strain that’s doing something really different and wrong,” McDonald previews. “She’s donning a superhero cape without even realizing that that’s what she’s doing to try and fight it. She’s dealing with her own self-doubt, but at the same time, realizing that she needs to shout this to the rooftops and do what she can to stop it from spreading.”

While not a doctor, Lily Leithauser (Taylor Schilling), Rachel’s upstairs neighbor, also gets involved in a little research of sorts. “She really does learn her own detective capabilities, her capacity for investigative reporting,” Schilling says. “Lily’s self-appraisal of her own skillset, her self-awareness, opens up tremendously.”

The Bite Taylor Schilling Lily Leithauser

Spectrum Originals/CBS Studios

Very Complicated Relationships

While Rachel and Zach are married, they’re not only physically separated but seemingly emotionally as well. Both are involved with other people, played by the actors’ real-life spouses — Rachel with Brian Ritter (Will Swenson) and Zach with Cyndi.

“It’s so wild to play two people that were having an affair with each other, even though we’re married in real life,” McDonald says. “[There’s] the complication of falling in love with someone during the pandemic, already a dangerous and scary time. And yet to open yourself up in an intimate way during this time when everybody’s supposed to be protecting themselves at all costs was a very interesting sort of layer to put on a typical sort of relationship drama.”

Swenson had “a ball” working with his wife on-camera for the first time (they’ve worked on the stage together), but admits: “There was a weird sort of wanting approval from your scene partner who also happens to be your wife and that sort of insecurity: ‘I want my wife to like me as an actor as well as a husband.'”

The Bite Audra McDonald Will Swenson Rachel Brian

Spectrum Originals/CBS Studios

Soo adds: “It’s very interesting to navigate a relationship that may be a little bit more new or unknown considering we know each other very well in real life.”

Zach and Cyndi’s relationship is less cut and dried than Rachel and Brian’s. Pasquale describes it as “very mysterious” as well as “complicated” and says it “provides a little bit of tension at work.”

But it’s not just the romantic relationships that will be affected by the virus on The Bite. Rachel’s with her mother, the Nobel Prize-winning Dr. Hester Boutella (Leslie Uggams), is as well. It’s “not the warmest coziest relationship, and somehow this brings them together in a way that’s totally unexpected,” Uggams teases. Among their issues: Hester and her son-in-law do not get along.

The Bite Leslie Uggams Dr Hester Boutella

Spectrum Originals/CBS Studios

“That was hard for me because I have a great relationship with my son-in-law, so I had to dig deep to not be crazy about my son-in-law in this,” Uggams admits. “She’s very pro African-American, so that was one of the things that she talks about is the fact that he’s not Black, but other than that, not every mother-in-law and son-in-law get along.”

The Bite, Series Premiere, Friday, May 21, Spectrum