In the new season of the CBC and HBO Max sitcom “Sort Of,” protagonist Sabi Mehboob expresses a desire that’s both simple and incredibly elusive.
“All I want is someone who understands me,” they tell their friend and employer Bessy. “Just, like, someone who understands me the way I want to be.”
Although Sabi references what they seek in a significant other, that desire to be seen — romantically and otherwise — plays out throughout the show’s second season, which is now streaming on HBO Max. . (CNN and HBO share parent company Warner Bros. Discovery.)
Sabi, who is non-binary, not only navigates love and dating in Toronto, but also hopes to be understood by their Pakistani immigrant family. And while “Sort Of” is particularly notable for its subtle and sensitive portrayals of its lead role, many of the show’s other characters – from Bessy to Sabi’s mother Raffo to their best friend 7ven – seek the same. acknowledgement.
The universality of “Sort Of” is part of its beauty and appeal. In all its specificity, it underscores that we are all ultimately dealing with the same things.
“If we’re starting to accept that transitioning is something we all go through because it’s part of human evolution, then maybe trans and non-binary people aren’t that different from the rest of us. “said Bilal Baig, who created the series. with Fab Filippo and stars like Sabi.
Baig told CNN what it means to feel seen and how “Sort Of” might help some viewers achieve that feeling. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The big theme of Season 1 was transition. What is season 2 about?
It’s about love. We talk about love in all its forms. Whether the change is minimal or not, Sabi gets to a place by the end of the first season where they are a bit more sure of themselves. It was exciting to think of a character like that dreaming of easy, simple love that would transcend all of their relationships — not just romantic, but also family, friends, and self-love.
Wanting to feel seen is another thread running through the show. Why is this so important to you?
This sense of feeling seen directly combats loneliness. When you feel seen, when you feel understood, you feel much less alone in the world. Given the times we are going through, if you are feeling marginalized in any way, there could be a lot of deep feelings of loneliness.
If our show can let people know that they’re not alone or that being seen isn’t an impossible thing for trans and non-binary people or people of color, that’s a lot. If we’ve given something to the world that makes people feel a little less alone, that’s a permanent accomplishment in itself.
Who is the show for?
When you look at the diversity of the cast, it really is for everyone. We approach it that way, applying the same level of depth and nuance to all characters. It’s a very intentional thing because it’s about reflecting back to humanity that we are all of those things and we’re all on a kind of journey of movement and transition.
It’s lovely when South Asians, just as much as trans and non-binary people, let me know how special the show is at particular times — when they feel like a scene or a moment in one scene was made exactly for them. We’re not there yet, but I can’t wait for the day when a show like this can be seen, loved and enjoyed by everyone.
“Sort Of” doesn’t go out of its way to explain its trans and non-binary characters. How did you achieve this sense of authenticity?
We are gentle in our approach. (Filippo) and I share a lot of similar qualities: a similar sense of humor, playfulness, not super sentimentalism. When we were building this world of these characters, we approached it with an ease, a gentleness, a non-heavy hand.
It’s as if a lot of the education was done for us. Culturally, there was enough in the air at the time where we didn’t have to explain what a trans woman is, or that people can have relationships, different genders or whatever.
One of the big storylines of this season revolves around Sabi’s relationship with their father. What were you hoping to explore with the character of Imran?
We were so clear that this was not going to be a stereotypical portrayal of an angry, aggressive, patriarchal South Asian man. Nobody was interested.
We were more curious to know what it means for someone to regain their place in their family. The first season (established) that Imran works in Dubai and spends a lot of time there. The relationship between him and the rest of the family is not necessarily smooth, as they are not always in contact with each other. So it was really fascinating to explore an older, South Asian, Muslim, Pakistani, trying to belong character.
He tries to understand where the world is going and if he still counts there. It’s a heartbreaking thing. Her attempt to reconnect with her family is also in direct conflict with her inability to let go.
How true to life is what ‘Sort Of’ portrays for you and how ambitious is it?
There’s something about the calm of this family that pushes things back. We don’t talk about things or sidestep things. This whole thing about Imran asking Sabi to work with him on the house renovation. The simplest and most direct question is: Can we just hang out? But instead, what feels particularly South Asian is how we don’t say exactly how we feel, especially when it’s vulnerable and big and deep. I feel that in my family for sure.
There are parts that are totally ambitious. (With) a lot of Raffo’s journey, I was so curious to offer some kind of healing to queer, trans and non-binary kids. If it’s not exactly their reality to have a mother trying to see them, it can be nice to just experience it on a TV show. Or maybe South Asian mothers around the world could find out, and something could change.
What kind of responses did you get from viewers?
It’s largely about people seeing and seeing each other. A lot of the messages I get are from people sharing that they felt their entire friend group was reflected in the show. The quality of people who really feel like they’re seeing real people going through complicated and fun life situations is pretty big, especially for trans and non-binary people – they feel like they can dig deeper into themselves and be more sure of their identity.
Sometimes parents say the show has helped them see their children in a new way. It is also major.
“Sort Of” and other shows featuring queer people or people of color are often celebrated for the representation they offer rather than their artistic merits. How do you feel about that as a creator?
We do a lot on our show behind the scenes. We work with writers and directors who are trans, non-binary, South Asian, of color. Of course, our cast looks like it does. It’s almost a relief to know that this team working on the show cares so much. We talk to each other about what we want the set to look like, and we have to make room for a lot of people.
Once you have that in place and you’re not doing it for the wrong reasons, you can really focus on creating it all. It comes down to amazing producers and this great partner I have (Filippo), who completely understands. You don’t lose sleep over that.
We are coming to a place culturally where work can speak for itself now. I’ve seen a bit of change where people can recognize “Sort Of” as a good, solid TV show beyond all the barriers we’re breaking. I think it reflects the world catching up.
What do you hope viewers take away from this season?
The season is truly an invitation to meditate and reflect on love in all its forms. For everyone who watches this show, I hope they think of their family, friends and lovers and the love of their work or themselves. While our show has certainly entered some heartbreaking and painful times, it’s ultimately an exploration of the depths of love.
Will there be a season 3?
This has not been confirmed. But we are hopeful.