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Celebrating Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Communities

Sort Of’s co-creators Bilal Baig and Fab Filippo (Photo by Jasper Savage)

Sort Of In Love

The creators of CBC’s hit show Sort Of share what’s in store for the highly anticipated second season, and explain what’s love got to do with it…

Since its premiere on CBC last fall, Sort Of has drawn critical acclaim: in 2021, it won a Peabody Award for entertainment as well as three Canadian Screen Awards. Plus, Mindy Kaling praised it as “so good and original,” and Queer Eye’s Tan France beautifully remarked how “every once in awhile a show comes around that just blows you away.” Distributors picked up on the vibe: following its premiere, the big-hearted CBC original series had its American premiere on HBO Max, and it was also picked up outside of North America, including in the UK, Australia, Europe and parts of Asia. 

Sort Of has not only drawn critical kudos, but has also won the hearts of audiences around the world. The series’ complex yet nuanced storylines in its debut season have been both embraced and celebrated for its authentic approach to, yes, queerness, but everyone can relate to its many other universal themes. At the heart of this “laugh out loud because it’s so true” series is compassion: compassion for the fact that what all people have in common – every age, every gender, every sexuality, every culture, every race – is that we are all always in transition. 

Whereas its first season was very much about identity and transition, Sort Of’s upcoming second season will dive right into the heart, as the season of love. It will explore what love looks like, in all its forms, and delve into the idea that there is no such thing as “normal” love. The new season will also introduce three new cast members: Raymond Cham Jr., Scott Thompson and Amanda Brugel. We’re already gagging.

Ahead of its second season premiere in Canada on CBC beginning November 15, we caught up with Sort Of’s co-creators Bilal Baig – whom we proudly had on the cover of our September/October 2021 issue – and Fab Filippo to learn more about the behind-the-scenes workings of the series and the audience reaction they’ve received since the series made its first splash on screens. And, of course, they spill the tea on the new season.

(Photo by Jasper Savage)

Let’s take a step back and unpack Sort Of’s debut season. Since then, it has been both embraced and adored by audiences the world over with its approach to queerness and the universal experience of transition. Has that response to your work surprised you?

Bilal: Yes and no. I think both Fab and I knew that Sort Of was going to have some impact, but to this extent? I don’t think we anticipated it at all when we first started working together on the first season. Since the first episode aired, I’ve received so many messages on social media from fans around the world saying how Sort Of opened doors for them, jump-started certain conversations with their loved ones, and the absolute joy of seeing a character like Sabi [the show’s main character, a nonbinary millennial played by Bilal] represented on-screen – especially on CBC, one of Canada’s largest broadcasters! For me, it’s been an overwhelming but a truly gratifying experience. 

Fab: Most definitely! The response of making top 10 lists in the press, the international recognition and the Peabody Award are things that surprised us in the best possible way. However, it always felt like we were making a show for everyone, and what’s been gratifying is the wide range of audiences, no matter how you identify, that respond to Sort Of. So, I suppose not so much surprised as gratified by how broad the audience is.

That’s a great follow-up! Not only has Sort Of racked up various awards, but, Bilal, you’ve also been recognized personally, such as being named one of Time magazine’s “Next Generation Leaders of 2022” and one of “The New Hollywood North” stars by Toronto Life. What have these awards meant to you?

Bilal: It tells us that we are going in the right direction. It shows us that people of all backgrounds and identities can connect to Sabi’s story and want to see more. To me, it means that representation truly matters.

Fab: It’s certainly validating and helps introduce the show to an even wider audience. Not just in the 2SLGBTQ+ or South Asian communities, but to other demographics…including your parents and grandparents! The recognition also exposes us as artists to the industry in different ways.

Okay, back to the upcoming second season. Can you tell us what’s in store?

Bilal: Without disclosing too much – because, of course, we wouldn’t want to give away any spoilers! – we pick up the season with Sabi being ready to make stronger choices for themself, knowing their boundaries, and having developed the self-worth to ‘take up space.’ We’ll get to see Sabi face new challenges in their work life, love life and family life. With the return of their father to Canada, Bessy in recovery in rehab, and workplace uncertainty, life is anything but simple, and Sabi will question if they will ever have uncomplicated, normal love. You know, that Rachel McAdams-type of love! 

And speaking of love, the new season will be all about love. Friend love, family love, loving your work, love of place and romantic love. What I’m most excited to show viewers is us exploring the nature of all Sabi’s non-normative relationships, with a focus on unconventionality – not only in queer- and gender-queer relationships, but in those of Sabi’s cis family. We’ll get to see the different kinds of love and how it affects the relationships of everyone.

In addition to last season’s cast returning, we’ll also be introduced to new characters in the second season. Who are they, and can you describe the importance of these characters and what you were looking for in casting them?

Bilal: We’re so excited for audiences to meet Gaia, played by the fabulous Amanda Brugel, who is 7ven’s mother and, just like 7ven, an absolute force. She’s an artworld doyenne, known to crash 7ven’s world and steal her friends and even romantic partners! We’ll also get to meet Wolf, played by Raymond Cham Jr., who’s Deenzie’s offspring. Hyper logical, very (if not overly) practical, possibly on the spectrum, and extraordinarily reliable, he’s quietly intelligent when it comes to people’s emotional needs, comfortable in silences, and easy to be with – especially when it comes to Sabi. And then Bryce, played by the legendary Scott Thompson, who’s a 50-something too-groomed, intimidating Gay Suit. 

Fab: The introduction of more characters allowed us the chance to expand the Sort Of world and the lens through which the show looks at people. Characters become 3D. We also tried to go against the expectations of the characters we’ve set up versus who they are in reality when brought into this world. When casting, I’m always looking for the same thing: someone who interprets what we’ve done and makes it their own.

Now that we’re in Season 2, how has the look of the show changed this time around, since it appears that Sabi’s outlook on life and love has also changed? 

Bilal: You’ll instantly notice how everything in this second season is brighter, colours have more hue, Sabi’s world is evolving and changing! Slowly unearthing and discovering themselves…

Fab: The world in Sort Of is a little more grounded and a little more colourful. I’m excited because we also played with other camera styles because of where Sabi is in their life. We shot last season with mostly handheld cameras. This season we explored other ways to capture a rocky world.

ABOVE (l-r): Sort Of ’s Henry (Aden Bedard), 7ven (Amanda Cordner), Sabi (Bilal Baig) and Violet (Kaya Kanashiro)

One of the many noticeable elements about this show is how music plays an important role in building the world of the series. How does the choice of music and musicians play into the feeling of the show?

Fab: We’re always trying to promote new Canadian indie voices and have them contribute and promote artists who could use the exposure. That’s the idea with each new season. Our choice represents a cross-section of voices/music artists who share the lens of some of the characters in the series. Last season our music supervisors, Kaya Pino and Jody Colero of The Wilders, came up with the idea of forming a ‘music factory’ of sorts to develop the sound of the show. So we handpicked five up-and-coming artists from Toronto to participate in the creation of music for the series. Working as ‘5 Points Diamonds’ – consisting of Haviah Mighty, Säye Skye, TRuss, The Kount and Gay Hollywood – these musicians then gave the show’s music a life of its own with a truly unique process. Through these artists, an aural landscape was crafted that reflects the diversity and energy of the world of Sort Of. And again, for the second season, we can’t wait for everyone to hear music from Ceréna, Moël, Earth To Emily, Terrel Morris, Shan Vincent de Paul, and the one and only Vivek Shraya!

Another phenomenal aspect of Sort Of is your writers’ room and that it’s representative of the characters and points of view reflected in the series. Last season, Jenn Engels, Ian Iqbal Rashid and Nelu Handa were part of that first room. What does the room look like this time around, and what was the experience like when you gathered again to begin writing this second season?

Fab: In addition to Bilal and myself, we were excited to have Ian and Jenn back for this new season. We also brought in fresh voices to this season: JP Larocque, Kyah Green and Léa Geronimo Rondot. So, the combination of fresh voices with those who were there from the start gave us the opportunity to play. Because we had already made a season and people understood the world we had created and loved, we had the freedom and room to play a bit more within that world. And when we played a bit too much outside the lines, we had our returning writers to keep us grounded.

This season, a training and mentorship program was created with the goal of growing diversity both on and off screen. How has this important layer added to your experience as artists, and what are your hopes for programs like this?

Bilal: The program was specifically created to give opportunities to BIPOC trans and nonbinary folks interested in getting into the industry, and a chance for them to have hands-on learning. Despite the many new voices that are starting to be heard, the TV and film industry is still primarily a white male dominated environment. This program is an example of how not only this show, but the industry at large, can actively support and invest in the future of these certain participants – but also plant the seeds so that as the show grows, this program grows with it. If we are lucky enough to get a third season, our hope would be that these participants can be brought back and continue their learning as fully hired crew members while a new cohort begins their training – thus creating more and more opportunities for growth in their careers, and more trans and nonbinary representation within the industry.

Fab: In a way, this mentorship program does exactly what the series does, which is to open aspects of the world to people. It’s gratifying in a similar way in that it provides insight and exposure into a previously unknown experience. When you expose people to the world, they want to be a part of it. It enables people to feel seen and heard, and that’s empowering. We take the mentorship program extremely seriously, and our aim is to give people opportunities and chances that then result in actual work.

To sum it up, the new season is about…

Bilal: Relationships and love – Rachel McAdams type of love! The love from friends, family, old flames, new crushes. The regression, advancement and transformation of those relationships as well. 

Fab: Ditto Bilal – love! Not just romantic love but all kinds. By the end of the first season, Sabi feels more grounded in who they are. Once you have a more grounded sense of yourself, you allow yourself to feel more open and expose yourself to bigger ideas of love. And that’s what we explore with Sabi in Season 2.

Season 2 of Sort Of premieres Tuesday, November 15, at 9 pm (9:30 pm NT) on CBC TV; episodes will also stream on both CBC Gem in Canada, and on HBO Max in the US on December 1. Catch up on the first season by streaming free on CBC Gem.

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