I Love That for You
Annapurna Television, 2022
Vanessa Bayer and Jeremy Beiler
📷 : Used with permission, Showtime
Movies and TV shows with heart, positive vibes, and warm messages
Movies and TV shows with a springtime feel or with images of the season
The 1971 hit song, “Whatcha See is Whatcha Get” is about a man convincing his lover that unlike her past loves, he is for real. The medium tempo, soulful song by The Dramatics consists of lyrics penned by songwriter Anthony Hester, and begin something like this:
Some people are made of plastic
Some people are made of wood
Some people have hearts of stone
Some people are up to no good
But baby, I’m for real. I’m as real, as real can get
While this might be a bit dramatic (pun intended), you get the point. Things are not always as they seem, and the storyline and characters in the television series, I Love That for You, are strong evidence of this hard truth.
I Love That for You depicts behind-the-scenes drama at the Special Value Network or SVN, a home shopping network enterprise. The business is headed by Patricia, a sharply dressed and dictatorial 60-something who founded the successful company. Typically, controlling bosses unwittingly work against themselves,alienating their employees with clear-cut directives and leaving no room for discussion. But this is not the case in this brightly lit series full of quirky characters. Put another way, Patricia, played by Jenifer Lewis, is a strong hands-on leader with skills at negotiating lucrative deals that keep SVN competitive and viable. Closest to her are Darcy Leeds, her smart and loyal assistant played by Matt Rogers (Fire Island, Shrill), and Jackie, Patricia’s 50-something best friend played by Molly Shannon (Other People, Scary Movie 4), who is the most successful seller at the network for the past 30 years.
While containing some funny moments, warm friendships, and lightly competitive workplace relationships, the show still holds some serious, thought-provoking moments that seem aimed at demystifying several long-held ideas about who people are and the range of their talents and capabilities. One example of this is the idea that life is over at 60-something. Though very serious and controlling, 60-something year-old Patricia is far from one-dimensional, as she is sexually active and particularly enjoys the company of younger Black men. In her words, “What are you saving your vagina for?” Indeed, Patricia is reminiscent of Lady Eloise, Eartha Kitt’s character in the 1992 film Boomerang, where she regularly pursued and seduced men much younger than herself. Like Lady Eloise, Patricia is wealthy and independent, even giving parting gifts to her lovers after their one-night rendezvouses.
Despite Patricia being a big part of the series, I Love That for You centers on Joanna, an early 30-something who survived childhood leukemia and still lives under the protective wings of her parents. This is evidenced by her limited social skills (stale jokes, clothes and pajamas with characters, animals and fruits), lack of intimate experience with a partner, and living at home with her parents – who, frustratingly for her, still view her as “sick” despite being cancer-free for 20 years.
Fascinated by SVN and Jackie in particular since she was a child, Joanna, played by Vanessa Bayer of Saturday Night Live fame who is also creator of the series, auditions for an on-air role and gets the job. When Patricia asks her “What story are you selling?”, during her first team meeting, she gives an emotionally immature response. Annoyed and unamused, Patricia asks experienced sellers the same – all of whom humorously articulate keen awareness of their on-air identities. Posing the question again to her new employee, Joanna, desperate to keep her job, belts out “I have cancer.” This sudden schtick conjures sympathy not only from Joanna’s colleagues, but also her shopping audience, making her a highly successful seller at SVN. But to what degree can Joanna keep up the lie about her fictitious cancer diagnosis?
Storytelling is at the center of selling and perhaps I am being cynical, but many if not most of them are lies. This one is a big one though. Unseemly. It can even be viewed as making light of and profiting off the pain and suffering of people whose lives have been turned inside out by a word some find difficult to say aloud, so choosing to abbreviate it instead as “the C word.” The thing about telling lies is it warrants keeping up the facade, usually by telling more and bigger lies to do so. Finally, when the lie is told so much, it risks overshadowing the identity of the person who is lying.
I Love That for You is largely light and fun, despite containing an element that does not make sense. For example, Joanna never shows signs of experiencing cancer treatments. Her skin color and body size never change, and she even maintains a full head of hair throughout the series. Yet, her colleagues make no mention of this. Each episode, though, does continue to challenge commonsense ideas.
Joanna, for example, is presented as naïve and innocent but she is a big liar. Beth Ann, a self-identified Iranian woman played by Ayden Mayeri, is depicted as competitive, spiteful, and full of lust, when Iranian women are typically represented as covered and wholesome. Perry, another on-air talent played by Johnno Wilson who presents as effeminate, enjoys sex with women as well as men because “f***ing is f***ing.” And while confident and successful, Jackie carries some deep secrets that suggest she is not as okay as she seems. Even Patricia does not escape this, as while controlling, she demonstrates that she is also intensely passionate.
Suffice it to say that very little is as it seems in this series, which is likely what creators Vanessa Bayer and Jeremy Beiler intended. In addition to entertaining, the show reveals the depth and breadth of people across race, gender, and age categories, as if to implore the audience to avoid judging a book by its cover. There are scenes in I Love That for You that recall the fun of Boomerang and the poignancy of the television series, How to Get Away with Murder. The diversity and quirkiness of the characters add to the series’ entertainment value and broad appeal.