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I Love That For You Review: Sentiment and Home Shopping Collide in an Ambitious Outing

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ILoveThatForYouShowtime

Like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and The Flight Attendant before it, Showtime’s bright-eyed new comedy, I Love That For You serves up a determined protagonist in the throes of reinvention. My, how clumsy her efforts are. Vanessa Bayer’s Joanna Gold is genuinely motivated to make her life and the world around her better. So, we root for her. We want her to succeed. Even though watching her occasionally trip is such fun. That’s the general thrust of I Love That For You, and while it may have more in common with the sweetly infectious Kimmy Schmidt — big heart, big dreams, big splashes of naivety — there’s a refreshing balance of grounded sentiment and realism here that makes this show worthy of attention.

Bayer created this dark comedy with Jeremy Beiler, an SNL and Inside Amy Schumer writing alum. We first meet Joanna as a teenager with leukemia holed up in a hospital bed. For comfort, she binges the Special Value Network (SVN) and quickly learns the art of “selling,” which soon comes in handy — why not use her condition to garner attention? It’s the perfect vulnerable teen move, but it comes back to haunt her. Flashforward 20 years and Joanna is healthy but nowhere close to living her dreams. She still lives with parents (Matt Malloy and Bess Armstrong offering memorable turns) and works with her pop at Costco. But when she discovers SVN is hiring, she sees an opportunity to start fresh.

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At SVN, we find a dizzying array of colorful characters, chief among them home shopping network queen Jackie Stilton (Molly Shannon), Joanna’s idol. But Jackie has grown weary of pushing everything from tacky onesies to fine china, and her recent divorce was a sobering wake-up call. Still, she lingers on, agreeing, reluctantly at first, to bring Joanna up to speed at the network while lady boss Patricia Cochran (Jenifer Lewis at her best) watches on, ready to pounce. And pounce she does. So much so that Joanna, fearing she’ll lose her dream job, relies on old methods to get what she wants: she blurts out that she has cancer. Intrigued — “people like it when you talk about cancer” — Patricia gives Joanna another chance, which sets up the flow of the remaining episodes. Will a guilt-ridden Joanna fess up and lose everything? Or… should she ride things out?

As workplace comedies go, there’s a compelling posse of characters here, some familiar, others inventive. SVN star Perry (Johnno Wilson), a smartly dressed southerner who, at least in the first half of the season, is coy about his sexuality, stands out and there’s plenty of room for his character to move beyond just being sassy. (Fingers crossed.) Ayden Mayeri’s Beth Ann feels a bit contrived as the spoiled territorial “almost a real star” at SVN. Matt Rogers’s Darcy, Patricia’s doting assistant, has the best wardrobe, but not the self-esteem to full come into his own. It will be interesting to see how he develops in the second half of the season. And Paul James’ Jordan, the office hunk Joanna fawns over, is the most down-to-earth of the bunch if not the lone “stable” character in the inner show’s mayhem and mischief.

Overall, these characters play off each other to winning and, at times, hilarious ends, but there’s a tendency for this series to give in and play things a little too over the top when it doesn’t have to. And that’s where it occasionally teeters, struggling to allow itself to deliver a meaningful message and having it breathe a while — before returning to a punchline. It doesn’t mar the overall endeavor, though. But at this point, TV audiences have seen it all so, why not savor more depth?

It would be interesting to see, perhaps, some scenes play out longer rather than rush to the next frenzied endeavor. That’s the hope as we move toward the final stretch of the season. Judging by the decent ratings, there’s a good chance this new series will be picked up for Season Two and I can see a clever way to keep audiences hanging, longing for more by season’s end: hey, what if Joanna’s cancer actually does return. My, wouldn’t that be something to play off of coming into a new season?

Related: The Phantom of the Open Review: Mark Rylance Astounds in a Fantastic Film

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