Showtime’s new comedy suffers from a flimsy pilot, but the second episode offers hope of more promising episodes ahead.
Vanessa Bayer, known for her time on SNL, joins the ranks of recent alums hitting the TV market with her own show, I Love That For You. Writing and starring, Bayer plays Joanna Gold, a Midwestern woman chasing her dream. At the start, she breaks free of her coddling parents and Costco career. She then achieves her dream of becoming a host on QVC-esque Special Value Network (SVN).
However, when she tanks her first live shopping hour, she gets desperate. In order to save her job, she lies about having cancer. Joanna then faces another battle of identity. Does she lean into the cancer lie? Or should she admit the truth and sink or swim based on her true self? It’s an intriguing premise, one loosely based on Bayer’s real-life childhood experience with leukemia. However, I Love That For You spends too much time rambling around unnecessary exposition in the pilot. It is only in the second episode that it begins to gain slightly more secure footing.
One of the strongest points of I Love That For You is the cast. Molly Shannon as Jackie Stilton, the legendary SVN host in the midst of an ugly divorce, is a particular standout. Shannon knows when to lean into the wacky outlandish elements of Jackie. For instance, she enters an SVN meeting waxing poetic about the female astronaut who tried to kill her husband’s memoir. Shannon also knows when to play it straight, showing her disappointment when sales improve as her husband calls into her show. If she’s not Jackie Stilton, the trusted housewife, who is she to SVN? It’s nice to see Shannon flex her dramatic chops while letting some of her SNL outlandishness take a backseat.
Joining Shannon as one of the brighter elements of I Love That For You is Jenifer Lewis as Patricia, the CEO of SVN. She’s an icy boss, aided by her fiercely loyal assistant Darcy (an excellent Matt Rogers). She’s a blunt boss, not afraid to toss out experienced hosts in favor of rising star Joanna. Lewis comes off a successful run of Blackish; it’s fun to see her strut around a cable comedy as Patricia, a woman who will turn down a phone call from Eric Adams. Lewis chews up every scene she’s in, portraying Patricia as a leader to be feared and admired among her staff.
The weaker point of I Love That For You is that the pilot gets off to a very delayed start. We see Joanna working at Costco, handing out pita chip samples. We also see her on an awkward date with Jason Schwartzman, who breaks up with her, thus catalyzing Joanna’s journey to audition for SVN. It’s unnecessary, as the audience knows Joanna is obsessed with SVN. In the first scene in the pilot, we see her as a leukemia patient, glued to SVN as Jackie sells jewelry on screen. Joanna’s audition isn’t horrible (her test is to sell a pencil), but it also doesn’t wow the audience.
For a show based on the idea of selling audiences something they want, the pilot sure takes its sweet time getting to the goods of the show.
For a show based on the idea of selling audiences something they want, the pilot sure takes its sweet time getting to the goods of the show: Joanna’s lie about her cancer. Unfortunately, this moment doesn’t happen until the penultimate scene of the pilot. The lie happening late in the pilot might serve as a hook to lure audiences to see the aftermath in the second episode. Still, it’s also a tad frustrating, as we just sat through 30ish minutes of stumbling around for Joanna’s journey to really begin.
The second episode shows slightly more promise as the show starts to chip away at the cheery facade of SVN’s hosts. They’re all selling their own brand. How bad is Joanna’s cancer lie when all the hosts are lying about something to move units?
Worse, some of those lies have far more negative effects on the work than anything Joanna has said. For example, Jackie and Patricia have long been friends and colleagues. Still, their friendship is teetering on the edge as Patricia’s manipulative career schemes blind her to Jackie’s unraveling surrounding her divorce.
I Love That For You’s start may have been flimsy with a slow pilot, unsure and awkward of what it’s selling to the viewers. However, with Joanna digging herself deeper into the big lie, there remains potential for more delightfully dark comic episodes of I Love That For You are on the way, ready for rush delivery to the audience.
I Love That For You starts pushing its wares April 29 on Showtime.