It only takes one episode of Sort Of to recognize that the expansive, non-committal title is perfect for the series. The TV landscape is littered with shows that have an ironclad structure and characters whose actions can be predicted before the first act is over. That's not the case with the award-winning Canadian dramedy, which debuted its first season on CBC in its home country and on HBO Max stateside in November 2021.
At its most pared down description, the series ceated by Bilal Baig and Fab Filippo, is about twenty-something Torontonian Sabi. Played by Baig, who also writes and produces the Peabody-winning show, Sabi is a nanny by day and bartender at an LGBTQ+-friendly bar and bookstore hybrid by night. Like most people their age, Sabi is figuring stuff out. That includes their pronouns, love life, and how long they can hide their queer identity from their traditional South Asian Muslim parents.
Sort Of is much more than a show that can be defined in a tagline. It's sort of about the queer community, but cisgender viewers will also see themselves reflected in characters. It's sort of about dating and friendship in your 20s, but it also speaks to children and parents who have struggled to find common ground. It sort of has insider Canadian nods, with its vibrant celebration of Toronto streets and the multicultural cast that represents T.O. — not to mention its mentions of Canadian Tire and Iced Capps — but its urban landscape is also one that international viewers will find familiar to cities in their country. It's sort of about young kids and adult children understanding their parents and vice versa, but it's also about individuals understanding themselves.
In Season 1, Sabi's life is upended when Bessy Kaneko-Bauer (Grace Lynn Kung), the mother of the children she nannies for, has a biking accident that leaves her in a coma. As someone who is not only her employer, but also a person who has been instrumental in Sabi's journey to self-acceptance, Bessy's accident affects every aspect of Sabi's life. They're unable to travel to Berlin with their best friend, 7ven (Amanda Cordner), and they take on a more hands-on role within the Kaneko-Bauer home, which causes friction between Sabi and Bessy's husband Paul (Gray Powell).
Within their own family, things become increasingly complicated when Sabi's mother Raffo (Ellora Patnaik) sees them in women's clothing. Although Raffo and Sabi's sister Aqsa (Supinder Wraich) try to keep Sabi's appearance a secret from family members, Sabi is outed to their father Imran, prompting him to cut his business trip to Dubai short and return home.
The Season 2 premiere of Sort Of picks up shortly after the Season 1 finale. Bessy has woken up from her coma, once again shifting the dynamic in the Kaneko-Bauer home and blurring the lines between employer and friend.
"I think what felt so exciting about Bessy coming back was the audience getting to see the dynamic between Bessy and Sabi really clearly," Baig tells Metacritic.
"We're getting to give space for these two people to pick up where they left off. We got a hint of that at the end of the first season when Sabi professes how much they mean to them, but I think what's so fitting about Bessy's coming back to consciousness at the start of the season is that it introduces this kind of love that is so hard to box in any way," Baig continues. "Of course she's Sabi's employer, but she's so much more to them too, and Sabi represents a lot to her as well. And of course, it further complicates the working dynamic. This is a relationship that, because it's unboxable, it can lead to confusion too."
Another person who has helped Sabi feel comfortable in their skin is Olympia (Cassandra James). The pair's friendship is complicated by feelings that have been simmering under the surface.
"I've got a lot of trans women in my life and we talk a lot about relationships and connections," says Baig. "I think a line gets blurry when you find another trans feminine person in your life and quickly become obsessed with them and become really deep friends."
At the end of the premiere, Sabi is relieved to escape a family function and spend time with Olympia, but a missed connection about uncomplicated love leaves Sabi unsure whether Olympia is her "Rachel McAdams-type" of partner.
"I think Sabi felt so affirmed by Olympia in the first season, and I think Sabi is wanting so badly for that feeling to continue," says Baig. "We get to learn a little bit more about Olympia this season and why there's a mystery around her and what she's going through. I think it's a relationship that Sabi really wants to work but it might not be the best or right one for them."
Then there's the latest bombshell that Bar Bük is closing, leaving a massive hole in safe spaces for young members of the queer community and prompting the arrival of Wolf (Raymond Cham Jr.), the son of Bar Bük owner Deenzie (Becca Blackwell) and a possible love interest for Sabi. With news that his father's business is closing, the responsible and pragmatic Wolf leaves school to return home and help in any way he can.
Wolf, 7ven, and Sabi quickly bond over their shared goal of creating a safe and inclusive space that will carry on Bar Bük's legacy, with seeds also being planted for a possible romance between Sabi and Wolf.
"When you work really well with somebody, that that means you should be good together in a relationship romantically and that's the kind of thing we're investigating between Wolf and Sabi," says Baig.
Sabi's best friend 7ven is continuing to live out loud in Season 2 and that means exploring new love on dating apps.
"I think 7ven has that thing where it's almost all or nothing. They're kind of obsessed with love," says Baig, who teases that 7ven falls hard for someone new in the second episode. "The heartbreaking thing underneath that is that I think it's a trauma response in some ways."
Baig also reveals that audiences will get to meet 7ven's mother (played by Amanda Brugel) and see the dynamics of a relationship that continues to shape 7ven in this season.
"Amanda Cordner, who plays 7ven, talks about the loneliness that 7ven grew up with in a home where the parents aren't always available," says Baig. "This season we get deeper into why 7ven is the way that they are and how their mother is such a presence that constantly haunts and influences 7ven."
One of the biggest moments in Episode 1 is the arrival of Sabi's father Imran (Dhirendra), an impending reunion that hung over the first season of Sort Of. The moment is not filled with screaming and crying, but instead a subdued greeting that feels true to the Mehboob family.
"We did not want to do the aggressive Pakistani asshole South Asian man of a particular age that we typically see," says Baig. "One thing that I think is so stunning about that family is that they all do posses an ability to be soft or quiet. I've seen moments with the four of them where they need to process, and they don't do it by necessarily yelling or freaking out."
This reunion is fraught with emotional landmines, including Imran referring to Sabi as his son. Still, Baig says that they feel the character is doing his best to reinsert himself into the family dynamic in a positive way.
"I think in that scene where he is sitting at the dinner table and Imran offers the job to Sabi, I think Imran is trying his best to be careful around Sabi. I think he understands that his child is sensitive and at the same time, I think Imran has a relationship with control and it's hard for him to let go of control, particularly as the patriarch of a family," Baid explains.
Imran is surprised at what he finds when he arrives in Canada: He sees that his family has not only continued their lives in his absence, but have created a unit that functions without him, leaving him unsure of his place.
"I think in that first episode, it's like he's stepping into a new world and he's watching these dynamics play out and trying to find himself in it," says Baig.
Those dynamics continue as the second season of Sort Of streams new episodes Thursdays
Get to know Bilal Baig:
Sort Of is the Canadian performer and writer's first major project, although they also gained notice for their play Acha Bacha.