Season 2 of "Sort Of" (trailer), the award-winning Canadian comedy TV series was released on November 15 on CBC Gem and on December 1st on HBO. Co-created by Fab Filippo and Bilal Baig, Sort Of is a Canadian comedy-drama set in Toronto. It stars Baig who plays the lead, Sabi Mehboob, and is about a non-binary millennial trying to balance their roles as a child of Pakistani immigrant parents, a bartender at an LGBTQ cafe, and a nanny to two young children of a professional couple. Baig, the 27-year-old actor, and writer is the first South Asian, queer, Muslim actor, to lead a Canadian TV series.
Sort Of won three Canadian Screen Awards and a Peabody. The New York Times called it one of the best shows of the year and Time magazine described Baig as a “next-generation leader”.
Why Sort Of Works
Filippo and Baig modeled the dramedy on other shows about 20-somethings who juggle jobs, friends, and romantic partners. The twist was to add body type, skin colour, and gender with a counter-narrative. They didn’t want to portray queer and transgender characters as stereotypes (think of the word “sassy” walking around snapping fingers at everyone) where often bad things happen and they meet a tragic end. Instead, they had a bigger goal to tell a story about the “complexity and fluidity of all humans” across genders, ages, and sexual and racial identities. The result was deeper, kinder, and gentler conversations with every character who is also in flux. They are transitioning and transforming as they deal with a series of interconnected problems that all people go through.
Asked about reactions to the show, Baig told the CBC,
"I feel like a word that gets used a lot when people talk about their experience watching the show is 'healing,' and I take that pretty seriously. …Because I think that there is a lot of pain and in the world and in particular communities."
Seasons 2 explores the theme of love around romance, family and friendship. Baig says a friend described the show as,
"like a big long hug”.
One reason the show is resonating with audiences globally is because it is real and honest yet gentle and kind in the way it tells complex human stories for each character without pigeonholing them.
Co-star Grace Lynn Kung, who plays Bessy, the mother of the children Sabi is a caregiver for, had an insightful observation about the show’s audience,
"We don't know what everybody's going through, but [we do know] that they're finding something and they're reaching out and they're saying, 'Thanks for making me feel a little bit less alone or making me feel heard or making me laugh.'”
Baig uses they/them pronouns and identifies as queer and transfeminine. While Baig is more pragmatic and seems more in control, their relationship with their Pakistani parents is similar to the character, Sabi. Both Baig and Sabi have a complicated relationship with their parents and at times, there is a sense of estrangement.
Baig was born in east Toronto and grew up in Mississauga in a working class famly as the third of four kids. Baig in recent years didn't have much contact with their parents. Their parents didn't even know Baig was transgender or an accomplished writer and actor whose television series was about to be broadcast across Canada in 2021. Instead of meeting their parents in person, they first explained who they were by writing letters. They sent one letter to one parent and another letter to the other parent. Baig's mother didn’t respond, but their dad did, saying:
I love you no matter what.
The three of them met a week later at a coffee shop in Liberty Village in Toronto. Baig recalls,
"It was a complicated moment. And it was a complicated conversation."
Baig's mother worried about their safety because in Pakistan, the trans community is associated with the "third gender" and has a history of discrimination and violence. Baig who is very self-aware, prefers deeper connections and thrives on introspective conversations. They were upset because their parents didn't react, didn't freak out, didn't go deeper, and remained quiet.
While progress has been slower with their parents, Baig is proud of how "Sort Of" has changed conversations for people and improved the dynamics of other families. They said,
“I’ve gotten messages from people saying their parents totally get their pronouns now, or parents sending me DMs saying ‘I get it in a way I hadn’t before seeing the show.’”
Toronto-based Samra Habib, is the author of the queer, Muslim memoir, “We Have Always Been Here. Their relationship is fraught but there are some hopeful moments. Habib told the Toronto Star,
What “Sort Of” has done and masterfully, is depict the space between total rejection and total acceptance that many queer people occupy when it comes to their families; a space in which parents say all the wrong things on a loop and then, out of the blue, something right.
In Season 1, Sabi’s mother, Raffo, (played by Ellora Patnaik) calls their cell phone out of the blue. When no one answers, she leaves a brief voicemail, saying,
“Live your life."
Every parent wants to say these words but not every parent does. If you’re going through stuff and feel a bit lost, then maybe hearing these words from Raffo and watching the series itself, is the comfort and blanket you need right now.