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‘I’m Sorry’ deserves an apology

| Friday, March 5, 2021

Maggie Klaers | The Observer

When I first sat down to write this article, I was under the (false) impression that TruTV’s “I’m Sorry” had been cancelled very recently. In fact, I was just late on the uptake. TruTV axed the show (which is still on Netflix) all the way back in August, blaming a halt in production due to COVID-19 for their decision not to “move forward with production” on the show’s third season.

But while it might not be news, per se, that this semi-autobiographical comedy has ended prematurely, I still think that the show is worth talking about — perhaps even more so now that it has been dumped rather unceremoniously into the garbage pile of TV cast-offs. 

“I’m Sorry” doesn’t deserve this kind of demise. For what it is — a show about the day-to-day life of a comedy writer/wife/mother (named Andrea, after the show’s creator) and her family — it’s one of the best comedies I’ve seen in a long time. When people ask me for TV recommendations (which, admittedly, is not a particularly common occurrence), I tell them to watch this show. And every time I show an episode to someone new, it’s only a matter of time before we’re both laughing out loud.

You might think that the show’s “limited,” even mundane, premise held it back. But I would say that what makes “I’m Sorry” so noteworthy is the fact that Savage and the higher-ups at TruTV decided that all of this stuff was worth depicting on screen in the first place: the minutiae of motherhood; the awkwardness of being a middle-aged divorcee; the strange nuances of relationships between parents and adult children and the oft-hilarious strangeness of juggling motherhood with a career, especially when that career seems about as far removed from a traditionally maternal mindset as is humanly possible.

Family life is seldom presented in an adult way that is not either dramatic, overly saccharine or satirized. Seldom do we see healthy marriages in which both partners recognize that the maintenance of this “health” can require things like trips to couples therapy and the reading of self-help books to “spice things up.” We almost never get to see the nitty-gritty of modern parenthood. 

But Savage charges boldly into all of these areas: the plot of the show’s second episode, for instance, revolves around Andrea’s bumbling, hilarious attempts to “unteach” what she fears is her daughter’s budding racism. A later episode explores her realization that she must “pull back” on the feminist messaging when Amelia accidentally insults the stay-at-home mother of a classmate. I could provide you with about a million examples of these little moments, which are both fully idiosyncratic and somehow universal (if, that is, you’ve ever been a parent or been around parents of young children). 

And that, I think, is where “I’m Sorry” really shines. It is unafraid to make its main character a woman who is unabashedly hilarious, who cracks dirty jokes at preschool pickup and keeps equally dirty photos on her laptop where her five-year-old can (and does) find them, who spends her days as a comedy writer deciding which of two sex acts makes a funnier punch line and her afternoons taking her daughter swimming. It makes kids’ birthday parties and brunches with the grandparents and conversations with the babysitter and emails to kindergarten teachers funny without leaning on one dimensional characters, tired tropes or a laugh track.

It is suffice to say that “I’m Sorry” is not your traditional, family-friendly sitcom. There is no nagging wife, no browbeaten husband, no artificially precocious child, no cuddly and old (or stern, old-fashioned and terrifying) pair of grandparents. Andrea’s father, for instance, is the kind of guy who reveals that he and his new girlfriend, Bonnie, are in an open relationship as a way of providing marriage advice, who hosts brunches while high and who asks for boudoir photos of family members to hang up in the front room of his house. Similarly (at least in terms of zaniness), Andrea’s mother has a tradition of buying her daughter’s husband, Mike, inappropriate Christmas gifts and is upset that Amelia, her granddaughter, is finally getting old enough to understand their meanings.

At its best, the show manages to satirize the world of upper-middle-class, millennial (mostly), white suburbia — but with the lighthearted touch of someone who inhabits those kinds of spaces on a day-to-day basis. In one episode, Savage gently prods at the progressive impulse to tokenize LGBTQ couples with a plot in which Mike and Andrea push Amelia to befriend a classmate with “two mommies” so that she will have lesbian role models, only to be disheartened when the couple ends up being totally dysfunctional and their child a bully.

So what is/was “I’m Sorry”? Is it a show about parenthood and family life for adults? Is it breezy social commentary? Is it a vehicle for crude, dirty jokes told while a random child hangs out on screen? Is it an exploration of what it means to raise a child in the 21st century? Maybe it’s all of those things. But motherhood, too, contains multitudes. And this show deserved more than two seasons to figure it all out.

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