But the real question is whether such absurdist tension can persist throughout the life of narrative comedy. Luckily, Bayer’s new Showtime series I Love It For You understands this character’s virtues (and limitations) and deftly doubles them up for some unexpected dramatic potential.
Loosely based on her own childhood experience with leukemia, I Love It for You stars Bayer as Joanna, a sheltered Midwestern girl who survives a leukemia diagnosis as a teenager. Lying in the hospital undergoing debilitating cancer treatment, the only thing keeping her going was the Special Value Network, a QVC-like home shopping chain that promised her glitz, glamour, and beauty through gaudy trinkets and smiling hosts. (including Jackie Stilton Molly Shannon, the famous face of the network) on screen. Now, as an adult, she was left in her parents’ protective bubble, with no dates and no career other than samples for a shilling at her father’s Costco branch. But she gets a golden opportunity when she auditions for SVN and earns a spot as one of their hosts, selling a pencil on camera so skillfully that Jordan Belfort would be proud of her.
This job is Joanna’s dream come true, but when she finally comes to SVN, it becomes clear how out of her depth she is. The first and most important thing is that she has a hard time understanding herself, let alone how she is perceived by others, as her icy new boss Patricia (Jennifer Lewis star) brings her in early. Everyone has their own brand: Jackie is the confident, stunning older housewife, Perry (Jonno Wilson) is the gay Southern gay, Beth Ann (Aiden Mayeri) is the dressed-up «mommy» who takes out her tampon to pee.
But who is Joanna? After all, they don’t just sell products; they sell themselves. And after her first day was disastrous, Joanna lies in a moment of desperation that her cancer has returned. Suddenly, she has a brand: a brave cancer survivor who gives her massive power and currency online until no one knows the truth.
It’s a premise rife with the discomfort Bayer enjoys as a comedian, falling somewhere between TV Land’s Younger and the «protected freak-aims-to-perform» elements of fellow SNL alumnus Kyle Mooney’s «Brigsby Bear» . Joanna feels like a mixture of many psychic vampires based on Bayer’s sketches, a woman overflowing with Midwestern positivity and no small amount of nervous energy. She’s terribly socially awkward, and many of the show’s best jokes revolve around Joanna tripping over her words with the confidence of a space cadet. (“I’ve been all over Italy,” she shouts to her successful old classmate.) Watching Joanna is like watching a bad improviser get picked out of the crowd to take the stage with Second City, but Bayer knows how to do it. balance Joanna’s cheerfulness with her crippling uncertainty about the present moment. It’s a real showcase for her, infusing the straight tics she’s cultivated throughout her career with the pathos of a woman who never had a chance to belong and is still catching up on what the outside world really wants from her.