The refreshing, smart, witty TV series Sort Of, (on CBC Gem on Oct. 5, broadcasting on CBC TV on Nov. 9), co-created by Fab Filippo (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Save Me) and Bilal Baig, who is also Canada's first queer, transfeminine, South Asian and Muslim star in a primetime TV show, tells an authentic story based on characters navigating transitions in their lives.
“Understanding that everyone's transition looks different, the way our world looks at transition is different and they're not seen equally all the time,” Baig explained to Yahoo Canada.
“There was something really delicious about exploring that and then it kind of became this game of swapping life stories back and forth, and that led to characters really emerging and then potential arcs coming out of that.”
The series follows lead character Sabi Mehoob (Baig), a gender-fluid 25-year-old Pakistani Canadian, living in Toronto. Sabi, who is navigating a rocky relationship and a nanny job, is given the opportunity to follow best friend 7even (Amanda Cordner) and move to Berlin for a change of pace and scene. But when a sudden, unexpected event happens with Bessy (Grace Lynn Kung), mother of the kids Sabi looks after, Violet (Kaya Kanashiro) and Henry (Aden Bedard), Sabi needs to reevaluate plans.
While Sabi is the lead character, it’s evident that a lot of time and care went into crafting all the characters authentically, showcasing real differences in experiences, something that we don’t always get to see in a TV series.
“One of the things that we were really interested in kind of combating was any sort of harmful, preconceived idea of what somebody like Sabi might be in terms of, are they constantly fearing for their life, or are they so sad,” Baig explained. “Of course, those things can be true for lots of different people, not just particular to the trans and nonbinary community, but I hope that folks can relax into seeing this show and just following where it goes.”
“We have a real shot here at just introducing people like Sabi to the rest of the world, specifically the straight, cis, white, world and that could be really transformative. Then I think the other side of it is for folks who know Sabi, who are totally with them and connect to them deeply, I think I would just love for those people to really feel seen through experiencing the show.”
For Filippo, who also directed Sort Of and knew at the outset that he wanted to put Baig in front of the camera as they developed this story together, the series is an opportunity for people to open themselves up to change.
“I think that some people are struggling and the option that they feel is to harden themselves to this, and I hope that the show maybe contributes to showing people that the answer really is to continue to soften, to seeing everybody's point of view,” Filippo said.
Unique balance of humour and drama
Sort Of has a great sense of comedy that drives the narrative of these characters in transition forward at an energized pace, with a great dynamic developed around the connections between all the characters in this story.
“It takes a roomful of people who are really committed to looking at characters in honest ways and making jokes too, that was definitely part of it, we did want to have a really good time, and then for all of us to really hear each other out when someone was like ‘hey, I actually don't think that that's part of the experience,’ or ‘it's actually more like this,’” Baig explained.
“I think drama builds the tension and then you release it with comedy,” Filippo added. “Each serves the other so I feel like we were given a chance to do it and I'm really grateful for that.”
“It really is also the networks that were able to sort of let us take a chance and make this sort of genre-blurry kind of show, even though they exist more and more out there.”
In developing that fresh, unique tone in this series, Baig explained that the guiding factor was basing each moment of the story in truth.
“It really felt like it was about truth, what is the truth in the moment here, in this scene here, and whatever that is, let it be funny and if it's not funny, let it not be funny,” Baig said.
“We had also created these characters who weren't just always going to be making slapstick jokes to each other and the circumstances they find themselves in can be funny or painful, or both. I love working in that place. I think it just feels so true to life and I kind of don't want to work in things that don't feel like they're actually trying to capture what the human experience is.”
This series, while certainly groundbreaking, is a particularly impressive undertaking for Baig who is not only starring in Sort Of but wears the hats of co-creator, writer and executive producer, with the show executed brilliantly.
“It was definitely challenging just in terms of what the workload looks like, you really are looking at every single thing that gets captured on screen or if not that, then everything that is part of the process that gets you to what is captured, how it's edited,” Baig explained. “What was really lovely was when I really had to kind of get in the zone for developing Sabi as an actor...there was space given to me to be able to focus on one thing.”
“I've worked in theatre, for sure, for a number of years but I've never assumed a position in which what I had to say could impact every single decision that was made on an artistic project… As somebody who's also a little bit on the shyer side, it was a real practice in using my voice and it's still a work in progress.”