The frequently delightful, if occasionally uneven, Showtime comedy series I Love That For You showed that a strong performance can carry a series through some rough patches. In this case, it was Saturday Night Live alumni Vanessa Bayer who proved that she is deserving of far more roles for her to really showcase her talents. Taking us into the behind-the-scenes world of a home shopping network, it follows Bayer’s Joanna Gold who has a bit of a problem on her hands. You see, Joanna has gotten the job of her dreams as a host on said network. The only problem is that she lied to keep it, telling everyone that the cancer she had as a child has returned when it very much hasn’t.
This dishonesty then becomes her “story” that she uses to sell the various products on the show, lying to millions upon millions of people who begin to empathize with her. Joanna soon finds herself caught up in the thrills of her dream and the tension from the lengths she’ll have to go to keep the lie alive. Loosely inspired by Bayer’s own experience with childhood leukemia, it is a show that sets out to firmly wedge its way into comedy that is both cringey and chaotic. Though it often struggled to find a tonal balance, that made for an unexpected and unpredictable experience over its rather brisk eight episodes. Nowhere was this more realized than in every moment Bayer was on-screen.
She is a glorious comedic wrecking ball, crashing through scenes and dialogue without hesitation. Whenever she enters a room or begins speaking, you have truly no idea where she is going to take it. She has a sense of comedic timing that is as strange as it is scintillating, putting us perpetually on our heels as hilarity ensues. Even as there is the sense that Bayer is in complete control of the comedic notes she is going for, the characters she plays are often completely bonkers to behold. Joanna is the culmination of this, a character Bayer has gotten to build from the ground up and let grow over a series. Of course, this should come as no surprise to anyone who has been able to see her really shine in all the work that she has done up until this show.
Even in movies that weren’t as good without her like Trainwreck, she showed that she was more than capable of stealing every scene that she got. Even if it was just a gag about how she could stop smiling, Bayer would bring life to every nuance available to her and make it something that you had to pay attention to. Her appearance in an oddball pitch meeting in the most recent season of Barry where she begins to just make silly sounds is a testament to just how good she can be in the most simple of moments.
Indeed, while many were sad to see Bayer go from SNL, she has shown that not only is she capable of taking on more expansive roles but that is where she has done some of her best work. She has the distinct delivery and dedication to commit fully to every bit, pushing everything she touches to new comedic heights. If you’re looking for some sense of what this is, treat yourself to her sketch in the outstanding series. I Think You Should Leave. There is no one that can deliver these ridiculous lines with such relish as she can. Even her more reserved performance in What We Do in the Shadows made for killer sequence after killer sequence. While this work in individual sketches or episodes in other shows has been great, there was the persistent feeling that she had all this untapped room to grow as a performer. That is what I Love That For You taps into, bringing all of these dynamics together to magnificent effect.
It is a show that lets her stretch her comedic muscles, drawing all of her talents into one comprehensive character that is deeply awkward yet abundantly hilarious. It certainly helps that she has fellow SNL alum, Molly Shannon, to bounce off of, another performer that also ought to be in more things, though this is very much Bayer’s show. Without her, it would not work nearly as well as it does. Joanna is a jovial person who Bayer gives a great deal of heart and humor to, making her journey feel far more earned than it has any right being. Without her holding it together, there is the sense that this could all completely fall apart. Even with her there, there are moments that feel a bit forced and uncertain about where they want to go.
Still, it is undeniable that this was a role that was long-overdue for Bayer, and she is able to mostly smooth over any bumps in the road whenever they may arise. Yes, she will then flip each scene on its head through this is more than welcome for just how surprising she continues to be. This isn’t about shock but something more surreal, leaving us wishing the show could get on more of her wavelength. When the two come into alignment, it makes for comedy that is maddening and mesmerizing in just how odd it can get in the blink of an eye.
This is all because of Bayer’s varied emotional acuity that ensures she can hit all the right comedic beats. Be they more absurd ones about the nature of working on a show selling random products to people or the darker ones where she grapples with a looming sense of death, everything lands perfectly because of just how much range she brings to the role. She can be dorky one moment only to be disruptive the next, shifting from being oddly charming into completely unhinged with ease. You never know what peculiar pronouncement she’ll deliver next, ensuring she is never pinned down by predictable comedy beats or even the rules of logic.
Bayer is fantastic in the show, making it a role that not only ought to continue for her alone but as a demonstration of what she is capable of. This all feels like only the beginning, though it still mustn’t go overlooked. Comedy performers often see their work undersold and minimized, though Bayer’s command of craft can not go ignored. She keeps challenging herself, making one only hope that this can mark the next chapter in her career where she will get to continue on her comedic explorations into even more enigmatic characters.