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Showtime's I Love That for You showcases the full breadth of Vanessa Bayer's comedic talents

  • I Love That For You understands the virtues and limitations of Bayer's bubbly and effervescent persona, "and smartly doubles down on them for some unexpected dramedic potential," says Clint Worthington of the comedy inspired by Bayer's childhood leukemia. Worthington adds: "It’s a premise rife for the kind of discomfort Bayer revels in as a comedienne, hitting somewhere between TV Land’s Younger and the sheltered-freak-finds-purpose-in-performance elements of fellow SNL alum Kyle Mooney’s 'Brigsby Bear.' Joanna feels like the amalgam of so many of Bayer’s sketch-based psychic vampires, a woman bursting with Midwestern positivity and no small amount of nervous energy. She’s horrifically socially awkward, and many of the show’s best gags revolve around Joanna tripping over her words with space-cadet confidence. ('I’ve been to all kinds of Italy places,' she blusters to a successful old classmate.) Watching Joanna is like watching a bad improviser get picked from the crowd to go on stage with Second City, but Bayer knows exactly how to balance the go-for-it resilience of Joanna with her crippling uncertainty in the moment. It’s a real showcase for her, infusing the straight-woman tics she’s cultivated throughout her career with the pathos of a woman who’s never gotten the chance to belong, and is still catching up to what the outside world actually wants from her."


    • I Love That For You feels like an SNL bit tailor-made for Vanessa Bayer -- which is the show's strength and its biggest shortcoming: "To judge from the first two episodes, the cancer subplot may well be the weakest (and hopefully, most disposable) aspect of the show," says Manuel Betancourt. "After all, the concept of a workplace comedy set at a QVC-like company whose employees include a catty momfluencer (Ayden Mayeri), a good ol’ Southern boy (Johnno Wilson), a gentle dashing PA (Paul James) and a personal associate (Matt Rogers)—not an assistant!—is enough to fuel plenty of fun storylines without the need for the 'will Joanna be caught in her lie and what will happen when she does and will she learn something about herself along the way?' setup the premise all but demands."
    • Vanessa Bayer is terrific, but the rest of I Love That for You doesn't work: "On the page, adult Joanna could be a bit of a woman-child comedy cliche, prone to discomfiting outbursts and immature acts of self sabotage," says Gabrielle Bruney. "But played by Bayer, who deploys her signature, wide-eyed mega-watt grin with the usual great success, the character becomes a sort of savant of awkwardness. The problems with the show lie, well, almost everywhere else. This shouldn’t be the case, as the cast features fellow SNL-star Molly Shannon as Jackie, Joanna’s TV idol turned colleague and mentor, and the 'Mother of Black Hollywood' herself, Jennifer Lewis, as SVN boss Patricia, who runs the organization with a perfectly-manicured iron fist. Both women are legends for good reason, and the storyline that emerges over early episodes, as the longtime friendship between their characters becomes undone, should make for great TV. But the characters aren’t fully fleshed out nor are their plot lines, which become increasingly grave over the four episodes that were released to the press. They feel generic."
    • I Love That for You struggles to settle on a tone to unite its many different modes, but it does have potential: "I Love That for You never dwells very long on the heavy drama, at least in the first three episodes sent to critics, but nor does it seem to know what kind of comedy it’s aiming for," says Angie Han, adding: "I Love That for You makes for an incomplete and occasionally frustrating portrait of Joanna in the early episodes, but then so does Joanna’s own understanding of herself. With some patience and brutal self-honesty, it could yet evolve into something more."
    • Where I Love That for You falls short is in getting the details right: "I Love That for You weaponizes its central presence’s askew vision of life as a series of petty humiliations, most easily borne by making oneself the butt of the joke," says Daniel D'Addario. "But everything Bayer’s character faces at work seems less surreal than unreal; the show lacks the grain and texture of actual office life or a recognizable media environment."
    • I Love That for You stands out for its treatment of cancer: "What makes I Love That for You a little more interesting than the average autobiographical sitcom — as Joanna breaks out of her shell in a new career as a host on a cable home-shopping network — is how thoroughly the show integrates cancer as text and subtext," says Mike Hale, adding: "While the show is no big deal, it handles the psychological and farcical ramifications of Joanna’s dilemma with a sensitivity that gives the sitcom setups an emotional kick you wouldn’t necessarily expect. Some of this has to do with Bayer’s performance — she nails Joanna’s blend of arrogance and abashment with an ace sketch comic’s facility. But obviously it also has to do with her life. Joanna is going through the bizarro, nightmare version of what Bayer is doing in the daylight: using her experience of childhood illness, which she has connected to her decision to go into comedy, to make art. Except that in Joanna’s case, it’s the art of peddling useless merchandise."
    • I Love That for You isn't as funny as Bayer is: "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," says Richard Roeper. "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."
    • The show’s biggest potential achilles’ heel is the sinkhole of Joanna’s cancer lie: "At SVN, everything is built on shaky ground, from her hosting gig to her newfound friendships, because she can’t admit her deception," says Tara Bennett. "Every day she doesn’t spill, the potential betrayal gets worse, especially as she’s also benefiting from the special treatment. That’s a stakes spiral that’s going to be hard for the show and the character to sustain in the long run without the show’s plausibility buckling under its weight. Luckily, the SVN ecosystem is such a fresh and fascinating backdrop for a sitcom, with all of its cheap cheats and internal squabbles, that at least there’s a place to go outside of the lie if they build the narrative and characters right. There’s also Bayer’s Joanna ,who is the epicenter of the comedy and the heart of the show. As a comedian, Bayer is a whole-face actress, and she is selling a universe of emotion to the camera in every scene—be it painfully bumbling or extra earnest—which makes her particular talents and this character such a perfect fit."
    • Bayer is always highly watchable, but her veneer keeps us at an emotional distance: "Yet intriguing cracks appear in the three episodes of I Love That for You available for review," says Carla Meyer. "There are hints that Joanna is stuck in a childlike state or is hiding serious pathology, since she tells a whopper of a lie and does not seem too haunted by it. Those first three episodes make you want to keep watching I Love That for You. Especially the third, which humanizes supporting characters who initially come off as caricatures."
    • Jenifer Lewis was thrilled to star in I Love That for You: "Coming over to I Love That for You, it's so cool," she says. "I mean, look at the happiness in just the advertising. And when I arrived on this set, my chest was lighter. The character was challenging. And yet I tell people the only difference between Patricia and Jenifer Lewis is Patricia has billions, I've got about $500 left. I mean, she is the CEO of this major network and she's a tarantula, but . . . as the series unfolds you will see that she has a big heart. Most people who have all that bravado and walls up, eventually we break as humans and we are brought to our knees and we have to be humble. And working with Molly and Vanessa, these two women are comedic giants coming right out of Saturday Night Live. Honey, I had to step up to the plate. But you know, I can do that."
    • Molly Shannon and Vanessa Bayer bonded over their experiences with childhood trauma: “We don’t take it for granted,” says Shannon, whose mother, youngest sister and a cousin were killed in a car accident. “We feel so lucky that we’re alive. For real.” Shannon adds of Bayer: "She almost doesn’t seem like an actress. She’s very steady and calm and grounded.”
    • Vanessa Bayer on making a comedy based on her experience with childhood leukemia: "I would sort of use the fact that I was sick to get special treatment and I would sort of capitalize on the perks of having cancer," she says. "So, I thought it would be fun to do something where I explored that element about it,” especially when it all goes away. Bayer adds: “We sort of love the special treatment that we get and when that time is over, when people forget about it, we’re like, ‘Well, where’s my special treatment?'"
    • Bayer and her team wanted a show that made viewers laugh out loud: “But we also wanted it to feel grounded, and we wanted it to feel like you really believe what these people are going through," says Bayer, adding that that kind of tone reminds her of her childhood leukemia battle. “I mean, for me, when I got sick, obviously there were really difficult parts," she says. "But I did always really like attention, which is why I think I have the job I have now. Those are aspects of these difficult experiences that we don’t often focus on. I think we all thought it would be really fun to kind of focus on that.”
    • Bayer had a lifetime of prep for starring in a show set at a home shopping network: “I watched it so much when I was little that it’s almost like when a little kid learns a foreign language when they’re young, I immediately picked it up," she says. "It’s a language that I so love, like to me it might be the most beautiful language, just because it’s so soothing and so beautiful. It was fun to be like, ‘Oh for research I need to be watching so much of this.’ Every time I turn it on I’m delighted. I love hearing the hosts talk about their lives, it’s so entertaining.”
    • Where did the title I Love That for You come from?: "We were trying to think of what the home shopping hosts might say that resonates," says Bayer. "Initially, it was 'I Love This for You,' but Showtime did research and found that the phrase people used most often was actually, 'I Love That for You.' The show is about people loving products, people loving each other, having these relationships. It felt like having the word 'love' in the title would be important."

    TOPICS: I Love That For You, Showtime, Jenifer Lewis, Molly Shannon, Vanessa Bayer