Vanessa Bayer smiles through the pain in I Love That For You | TV / streaming

But the real question is whether that kind of absurdist intensity can sustain itself during the lifetime of a narrative comedy. Fortunately, Bayer’s new series for Showtime, “I Love That For You,” understands that person’s virtues (and limitations) and cleverly doubles them for an unexpected dramatic potential.

Loosely based on her own childhood experience with leukemia, “I Love That For You” stars Bayer as Joanna, a protected Midwestern girl who survived a leukemia diagnosis in her teens. Laid out in the hospital, during exhausting cancer treatments, the only thing that kept her going was the Special Value Network, a QVC-like shopping network for the home that offered her the promise of glitter, glamor and beauty through the tacky trinkets and smiling hosts (including Molly Shannon’s Jackie Stilton, the network’s famous face) on screen. Now, as an adult, she has remained in her parents’ protective bubble with no dating life and no career outside of penny trials in her father’s Costco department. But a miracle happens to her when she auditions for SVN and gets a concert as one of their hosts and sells a pencil on camera so skillfully that it would make Jordan Belfort proud.

The job is a dream come true for Joanna, but when she finally arrives at SVN, it’s clear how out of her element she is. The first and most important thing is that she hardly understands herself, much less how she comes across to others as her icy new boss Patricia (a star Jenifer Lewis) drills into her early. Everyone has their brand: Jackie is the confident, breathtaking older housewife, Perry (Johnno Wilson) the cheerful Southern gay, Beth Ann (Ayden Mayeri), the puppet “mom fluencer” who takes her tampon out to pee.

But who is Joanna? They do not only sell products; they also sell themselves. And after her first day has gone catastrophically, Joanna lies in a moment of desperation that her cancer has returned. Suddenly she has a fire: the brave cancer survivor – one who gives her enormous power and currency on the network as long as no one finds out the truth.

It’s a prerequisite for the kind of discomfort Bayer indulges in as a comedian that hits somewhere between TV Land’s “Younger” and the protected-freak-finder-purpose-in-elements of other “SNL” alum Kyle Mooneys “Brigsby Bear”. Joanna feels like a fusion of so many of Bayer’s sketch-based psychic vampires, a woman bursting with Midwestern positivity and a not insignificant amount of nervous energy. She’s terribly socially awkward, and many of the series’ best gags revolve around Joanna stumbling over her words with confidence to the space cadet. (“I’ve been to all sorts of places in Italy,” she tells a successful old classmate.) Seeing Joanna is like watching a bad improviser being selected from the crowd to go on stage with Second City, but Bayer knows exactly how one has to balance Joanna’s go-for-it firmness with her crippling insecurity at the moment. It’s a true showcase for her, adding the straight-woman tics she’s cultivated throughout her career, with the pathos of a woman who’s never had the chance to belong and who’s still catching up on what the outside world actually wants of her.

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