‘I Love That For You’: Vanessa Bayer’s sitcom isn’t as funny as she is
The characters on this sometimes clunky Showtime series are thinly drawn constructs more suited to her old job on “SNL” than a long-term vehicle.
In an early episode of the new Showtime comedy series “I Love That For You,” Vanessa Bayer’s sunny but socially awkward Joanna bumps into a guy she had briefly dated, played by Jason Schwartzman.
She pretends not to remember him, saying, “Epum?”
“Ethan,” comes the amused reply.
Ethan’s gorgeous, blonde girlfriend Margo comes up, calling him “babe,” and when he introduces her to Joanna, she says:
A new episode premieres each Friday on Showtime’s streaming platforms and on demand, and then at 7:30 p.m. Sunday on Showtime.
“Hi! I love your look. It must be so hard for female rabbis to know what to wear.”
OK. Not only is that unfunny, it’s like if you can see the dialogue jumping off the writer’s computer screen and onto the show. It sounds like nothing anyone would ever say, even in Sitcom Land. Based loosely on the likable and talented Bayer’s experiences as a cancer survivor, “I Love That For You” is shot in the single-camera format, but it plays like an old-fashioned and not particularly inspired multi-camera sitcom. The only missing is the laugh track to compensate for the lack of consistent bite and wit in the one-liners.
For seven years on “Saturday Night Live,” Bayer proved to be an original and smartly funny presence, but her Joanna, like every other main character we meet in the early episodes of the series, is a thinly drawn construct more suited to an “SNL” sketch than a long-term vehicle. We learn that much of Joanna’s childhood was spent in hospitals as she battled leukemia, and her only true “friends” were the hosts peddling shiny junk and cheap clothes on the Special Value Network.
As an adult, Joanna is still living with her well-meaning but overly protective parents (Matt Malloy and Bess Armstrong, two fine actors stuck in nothing roles) and ekes out a living hawking appetizer samplers at her dad’s Costco branch—but she gets her big break when she auditions for SVN and actually wins the job.
In rather clunky fashion, “I Love That For You” trots out the workplace-com regulars, including Jenifer Lewis’ Patricia, the no-nonsense, tough-talking boss of the channel; Matt Rogers’ Darcy, the stereotypical bitchy gay assistant to Patricia; Ayden Mayeri’s Beth Ann McGann, a Kardashian-looking diva with a nasty streak, and Molly Shannon’s Jackie Stilton, who has been the face of SVN for some 30 years and is treated like a movie star, but is hardly the “have it all” personality she portrays on TV.
The big plot point in the early going is Joanna bombing on air and deciding to go with the lie she has cancer, earning her the sympathy of viewers and leading to some big sales numbers. But how long will she be able to sustain the ruse? Sigh.
By the third episode, I had come to the sad conclusion I didn’t want to spend much more time with these people. Not because they’re unlikable, as we’ve seen some great comedies through the years about folks who are mostly awful. (Hello, “Seinfeld.”) It’s because they’re not all that interesting. For that, I will be leaving “I Love That For You.”