|WORK IN PROGRESSREVIEW|
Abby McEnany knows there are not a lot of people who look like her on TV. She knew it 30 years ago, when the character of Pat, a chubby nerd whose inscrutable gender was the scene's only punchline, appeared on “Saturday Night Live.” Here, finally, was someone who did look like Abby on TV. There was just one problem: Pat's sole reason for making it to screen was so that people could laugh at their appearance.
Nearly three decades after Pat's “SNL” debut — thanks to McEnany and her co-creator Tim Mason — another androgynous, heavyset, nerdy, butch lesbian has miraculously made her way to television. She's glorious, she's hilarious, and she's definitely having the last laugh.
The show is called “Work In Progress,” and it wraps a superlative first season this Sunday. In just eight 30-minute episodes, “Work in Progress” has radically reshaped what queer stories can look like on TV, blowing the competition out of the water with its sharp black comedy, lovable trans characters, and refreshingly unfiltered take on mental illness, body image, and gender non-conformity.
The series follows self-identified fat, queer dyke Abby McEnany, as her plans to commit suicide are complicated by an unexpected romance with adorable trans man Chris Theo Germaine, who's 20 years her junior. The developing relationship challenges her to open up about her obsessive compulsive habits, suicidal ideation, self-loathing, and sexual hang-ups. If that doesn't necessarily sound like the stuff of side-clutching comedy, that's exactly what makes it so damn brilliant.
“The thing about our show is it's not all palatable queers,” McEnany told IndieWire during a recent interview. “For middle America or whatever America, I'm not a palatable queer. Right? I'm this fat, loud, gray-haired, masculine, queer dyke who's a mess. But the goal of this show is, hopefully — for folks out there that feel isolated — to show that there's a life out there without shame, and just stick in there.”
The show works because it is coming directly from McEnany's perspective, with Mason's help. The writing duo Mason directs every episode as well have been doing improv in Chicago for over 20 years, and they understand how to seamlessly weave comedy into every scene.
“I think honestly I wouldn't have been ready for this 10 years ago or five years ago. I've just been steadily kind of working, and performing, writing, improvising, and acting,” said McEnany. “I think I'm just one of those people that keeps on trying and does stuff at her own pace.”
In addition to Abby's...
Lila Caracci, this week, is in a mood. As revealed in last week’s episode of HBO’s “My Brilliant Friend,” Naples’ resident rebel and feminist played by Gaia Girace is now pregnant by her abusive loser husband Stefano, and mama ain’t happy. The baby news came in total contradiction to Lila’s beliefs, as the miserable newlywed has firmly denounced marriage and children knowing they will offer no escape from her crummy life.
Lila remains, as ever, one twisted sister. She seems to almost manically flip between despair and sociopathic glee like in, say, the moment she feels a pang in her womb, pulls out blood from between her legs, holds out her hand to Lenu Margherita Mazzucco and, with a sick grin, says, “Does this mean the baby is dead?” Indeed, in the opening scene, Lila has miscarried.
She has a similarly demonic grin, served with a downright Kubrickian stare along with it, in a later scene where she seems to be emboldened by physical abuse, and having an audience for it. Storming into their flat, Stefano seizes her throat upon learning that Lila has allowed her brother Rino and his girlfriend to use their apartment as a pied-à-terre for sexual trysts — all in front of Lenu. Insecure in his own masculinity because he can’t successfully knock his wife up, Stefano punches the wall, threatens to kill Lila, calls her a “fucking bitch,” and storms out. Lila turns to Lenu, who’s just been invited by her schoolteacher to a party, and giddily asks Lenu if she can join her. Between Lila’s expression, the unsettling sound design, and an eerie dissolve, “My Brilliant Friend” for a minute there suddenly feels like a horror movie.
Speaking of horror movies, this week’s episode, titled “Erasure,” veers into supernatural territory when Lila’s wedding portrait — already deformed by its subject when Lila cuts it up into pieces and reassembles the shards into a modernist kind of collage — suddenly catches on fire in the now Solara-owned shoe shop. The rabbling women of the town become convinced that Lila is some kind of wicked witch who willed the fire to happen, which echoes Stefano’s claims last week that Lila has an “evil force” inside of her.
Back to the third-act party sequence, though, which feels like it’s setting the stage for what’s to come the rest of this season. There’s a lovely scene when, on the way up to Lenu’s teacher’s flat in a more moneyed corner of Naples, Lenu and Lila get into an elevator, which is apparently a first for Lila. It’s a testament to Girace’s subtle, sly performance that this moment, which feels unexpected and even improvisatory, is the sweet center of the episode.