While no one would mistake the endearing Showtime comedy “I Love That For You” for a documentary, co-creator and star Vanessa Bayer drew heavily from her own unabashed love for home shopping television. Here, let her tell you.
“The way the hosts talk [I] found to be so mesmerizing,” Bayer explained to IndieWire. “The way that they would touch the products. The whole world. How much fun it was, how glamorous the hosts were, and how they could sort of talk about anything for such a long time. I was always really mesmerized as a child. I found it to be really comforting to watch and sort of like an escape. I just absolutely love it.”
In “I Love That For You,” Joanna (Bayer) is a childhood leukemia survivor who, following a disastrous first day at her dream job as a home shopping network host, avoids getting fired by pretending her cancer has returned. In addition to Bayer’s real-life love of TV shopping, the show is loosely inspired by Bayer’s own cancer battle.
“When I was a teenager I had childhood leukemia and I really always loved exploring the perks of that,” Bayer said. “Obviously, it was a difficult time, but [I realized] I can use it to get special attention and get out of things I didn’t want to do, like gym class. I always thought that that was a fun take on a difficult experience.”
The show manages to be both workplace comedy — full of brightly colored offices and secret co-worker hookups — as well as a darker look at how formative traumas can mean you’re all grown up and still working through years-old wounds. In Sunday night’s first-season finale, the fake-cancer jig is up and Joanna must confess her big lie. Spoiler alert: Things do not go well.
Bayer chatted with IndieWire to break down the finale, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ impeccable QVC line, and how one perfect Ryan Phillippe cameo came together.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
IndieWire: Did the tone come easily, or was there a version of the show that was darker?
Vanessa Bayer: When I left “SNL” I wanted to do something about home shopping and I ended up talking to my friend [co-creator] Jeremy Beiler, who was also very interested in that world. We were thinking, “What would be a good journey for my character to be on?” and we thought of my story of being a survivor of childhood leukemia [and] the way that gave me sort of arrested development and also I got all these perks out of it. We always wanted this to be a really comedy-forward show and a really laugh-out-loud-funny show. I don’t think we ever really thought of it as wanting it to be super dark, but obviously it deals with some dark topics.
Your character on this show is a little bit awkward and it’s different from your “SNL” work, but there’s a similar throughline. What attracts you to characters that are maybe a step behind or don’t always perfectly read social cues?
Well, I think that’s sort of how I am! In my heart of hearts, I’m a pretty awkward person. I think there’s something in all of us that we’re just sort of awkward and kind of faking it till we make it… It’s just kind of exaggerating something that’s already very much [me].
When did you originally meet Molly Shannon and what made this part right for her?
I originally met her, I think, at the “SNL” 40th anniversary. I was just so charmed by her. As we were creating this role [of Jackie], we were thinking who could really play this kind of star of the network who’s a pro. Molly felt like such a natural fit because she’s so charismatic. She’s just really mesmerizing and such an exuberant personality. It also [was very] meta. When I used to watch “SNL,” I used to always love watching her and wanted to be just like her. So getting to play this character who looks at Molly’s character who’s a home shopping host and then getting to work at the same place as her sort of mimicked real life in that I got to be on “SNL” after Molly was there. We weren’t there at the same time, but it just felt really exciting that there was [this] sort of parallel thing to what happened in real life.
When did you know that the moment of Joanna confessing her lie and the HSN job offer was where the season would end?
We didn’t want Joanna to be keeping up this lie forever. At some point we wanted to have her come clean in one way or another, and that we were trying to create a show that could keep going without this lie. In terms of the HSN stuff, I don’t think we knew exactly how we would work it in there but it was always fun to think about, “How does HSN play into the storyline knowing that they’re the big competitor of SVN?” and “What does that world look like and how is that different than the SVN world?” It was something that we were working toward but we didn’t know exactly what it was until closer to when we were writing it.
How did the Ryan Phillippe cameo come about?
It was the idea of this extremely famous heartthrob, kind of like a serious actor, selling steaks. We’re certainly not the first people to find out he’s so funny — I mean, him in “MacGruber.” I met him because we were doing guest spots on “Will & Grace” together. Just getting to see him sell steaks and the line, “You have to put them in the refrigerator because we don’t pack them on ice,” that’s something he improvised. He’s just so great.
Did you have a favorite moment or scene to film this season?
I always loved filming the scenes with Paul James who plays Jordan because he is such a good actor. He would really ground these scenes where Joanna was just acting insane. Those would always really make me laugh. …Jenifer, I’d always try and make her laugh when we were filming together. Molly, sometimes I would get emotional because I’m so excited that we were filming together.
There’s one when I’m running out of work in the fourth episode and I’m carrying this big greeting card from these kids. I run into Paul and I get really startled… It was just like a real moment of everybody losing their minds and it just made me laugh so hard. We had to do it like 100 times because I kept laughing.
Are you someone who breaks a lot or can you normally keep it together?
When I was on “SNL,” I didn’t break until I think the last episode of my sixth season and I was only there for seven seasons. I feel like now I’m not quite as good about it, but I really try not to. It’s so fun to break and laugh and stuff, but we had a pretty quick schedule and you want to pack it in, especially being a producer. But sometimes you just have to laugh because I just couldn’t help it.
Do you have a favorite home shopping product you own?
When Jeremy and I found out Showtime was going to do our show, we bought our Showtime executives blankets by Casa by Zeta-Jones, which is Catherine Zeta-Jones’ homeware line. They have [each] independently told us how much they love these blankets, so I think those blankets were really good!
“I Love That for You” is now airing on Showtime.