I started watching I Love That For You, a Showtime original comedy that beams through to New Zealand weekly via Neon. (I had to renew my Neon subscription for this – and of course one or two other shows…)
I’ve been looking forward to I Love That For You. The show stars and was co-created by Vanessa Bayer. For seven years she was on Saturday Night Live, a supporting player for the first two years and then a full cast member for the five from 2013-2017. She was one of the best, most dependable comic talents in an era of the show where there were some pretty great regulars, particularly the female cast. Bayer was up against and collaborating with Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, and the very end of the Kristen Wiig, Abby Elliott and Nasim Pedrad era.
Sometimes I felt like Bayer was overlooked. It gets that way with SNL. Some of the cast members leave because of this, some pivot to writing more than appearing, and some graft away and hone their craft and create impressions and characters that no one else can replicate.
Bayer had this incredible Miley Cyrus impression.
And an even better Jennifer Aniston one (specifically as ‘Rachel Green’ from Friends.
But what I really loved about her run on SNL, was the masterful way she could combine awkwardness and charm – earnestness falling over into parody. She gave her characters this extraordinary trick of a look, biting down into the awkwardness, looking away for an instance and adding the fluster of speaking nonsense.
She was particularly good at playing young children.
And a few weeks before she was let go from the show, she debuted one of the best, unique characters to SNL, something that showed her history-of-comedy chops by reaching back to vaudeville. It felt like a victory lap, a middle finger even.
In the five years between leaving SNL and now, she pops up in movies and TV shows, has a bit-part as a crazy character and is usually funny enough. But you think that there must be more for her. So, I was thrilled to hear about I Love That For You. I heard her speak about it with Marc Maron on his WTF podcast (worth listening to not only for background on the show, but for her background in comedy as well as the SNL stories).
It was there that she gave a plug to her own podcast which is also worth your time. And you can get a feel for the real-life energy that goes into her new show; not just because it’s based on something that happened to her, but the pop-culture geekdom that is a lovely thread to I Love That For You (particularly the 90s music).
I Love That For You stars Bayer as Joanna Gold. She is obsessed with the home shopping network and grows up wanting to be a handbag-selling TV celebrity. She also has leukaemia as a teen. When she is at risk of losing the dream job because she’s rehearsed the audition through her recovery and the rest of her adolescence, she lies and says she has cancer (still) to keep the job.
The show then works around this lie. Bayer, as Gold, must continue to tell people she has cancer when she does not.
Cue the kind of awkward comedy you either love and gravitate to, or can only watch through a slit between your fingers.
When Bayer was a teenager she had leukaemia – so that part is true, and the genesis of the show. And she talks about this on the Maron podcast, as well as in other promotional appearances for the new comedy.
From there it goes to super dark and awkward places. There’s a talented ensemble cast, all playing wonderfully hideous characters. Molly Shannon, in particular, is dream-casting; in many ways she was the Vanessa Bayer of her era on SNL. (No doubt a huge influence on Bayer).
The rest of the cast is a mix of fresher-faced newcomers and hardworking character actors that you will recognise but might need the help of a Wiki or IMDB page to jog your memory around where you remember them from most.
The first season is eight episodes, five of which are available right now – the sixth will be up tonight. So, perfect time to get on board with it now if you haven’t already.
Although, if you’re like me you’ll watch all five-six episodes on the trot, and now be waiting for two-three weeks for the show to conclude.
I’m at that point in the show where I worry about how long it will roll out for, the premise is perfect for a season; the character can develop beyond this living lie to justify at least one more season, sure. But I’m doing my best to put those concerns to the side and just enjoy Vanessa Bayer being in a lead role in a show based, in part, on her life; one that she’s co-created and co-produces.
It’s funny, cruel, sharp and exposes the hypocrisies and dark, weird foibles of human beings. It is also just filled with funny lines and great gags. The comedy of awkwardness, and the schadenfreude of humans behaving badly can only so far unless there’s real meat on the bones. And I Love That For You has wonderful, skewering satire in and around its deep, soulful take on the darkness that sits so close to the surface in the collective human heart.