The creators of CBC’s ‘Sort Of’ on wrapping the show on their terms

By Katie Bailey, The Canadian Press

TORONTO — CBC’s millennial dramedy “Sort Of” may revel in life’s grey areas but its creators Bilal Baig and Fab Filippo know one thing for certain – now is the right time to end it.

The critically acclaimed series about a gender-expansive Torontonian begins its third and final season Friday with Baig’s lead character Sabi reeling from Season 2’s bombshells, and the complicated emotions that result. 

Baig says the storyline seemed to move organically towards a natural conclusion, and that got Baig and Filippo contemplating a finale for the entire series. 

“It feels really right, where we ended it and that feels good,” Filippo says of the final eight episodes.

“It feels like there’s a completion and that it didn’t get torn away from us. There’s a bittersweetness because I genuinely love the people that I’ve been working with for the past two years but I’m excited for people to see it.”

Baig says the duo was also wary of “Sort Of” overstaying its welcome, and wanted the end of the CBC Gem series to feel natural.

“I never want the conflict to feel forced, or about how many things can happen in the span of a couple months in a character’s life,” Baig says.

“There was something about the story and what it was revealing to us that felt right in pursuing. The finale, I think, ends in such a ‘Sort Of’ kind of way, so I really love it for that.” 

In “Sort Of” fashion, that means messy, heartfelt and heart-wrenching.

The third season picks up where Season 2 left off, with Sabi reeling from the sudden death of their father and the fallout of kissing their married friend Bessy – who is also the mother of the kids they babysit.

Baig says there was never a grand plan to bring Sabi and Bessy together but once the story moved in that direction, a clear conclusion to the overall series emerged. 

“I did not have that in my head when we started making this show,” Baig says of the kiss. 

“When that happened, and it coincided with the father’s death, it felt like I really saw an end to this.”

“Sort Of” was heralded as a groundbreaking series when it debuted in 2021, with the CBC touting it as the first primetime series to be led by a queer South Asian Muslim actor.

Also airing on the U.S. streamer Max, it went on to garner an ardent fan base, international media coverage and a host of awards – including seven Canadian Screen Awards earlier this year and a Peabody last year.

It was a surprise to many when Baig and Filippo announced in October that the next season would also be its last. 

Baig says the goal with “Sort Of” has always been an honest but gentle approach to life’s difficulties and that this season will be bolder and more political, ending closer to a place where Sabi “feels like themselves.”

“That feels like an important thing, to send that message out into the world when there is all this anti-transness,” they say.

“For a trans person to feel like themselves feels important. Whether they are OK or not. But I like the twisted stuff. I like comedy wrapped up in a lot of sadness. 

“I’m not even sure if Sabi’s OK in the end. I don’t know if trans people are, in this world, OK.”

Filippo acknowledges that “the show exists in a slightly gentler world than the real world,” and says he and the crew worked to convey Sabi’s increased comfort in life’s grey areas by giving this season a more “stable” feel. 

It’s something they worked to convey with softer colour palettes and a more relaxed take on the hand-held camera shots that helped define the look of the first and second season, he says, which give the season a more “filmic” feel. 

Filippo says that while the first two seasons dealt with the notion of transition in different ways, the third season addresses it more directly.  

“It’s really about embracing the in-between spaces – you know, not having to have absolutes, not having to have anything pure in your life. We have story resolutions that make you feel good, but then we ask questions right away,” Filippo explains.

“This idea that you can exist in in-between spaces… it’s becoming more and more important as I develop as a human being, to be OK with those in between spaces.” 

Baig says they were anxious about how fans would feel about the series ending, especially for people in the trans community who responded very strongly to the show.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t aware of that kind of feeling of abandoning [them],” said Baig. 

“The beauty of television is that it doesn’t actually go away, or it doesn’t have to. People can and will revisit the show when they need to.”

“Sort Of”’s final season begins streaming Friday on CBC Gem with two episodes per week until the finale on Dec. 8. It’s set to air on CBC TV in early 2024.

 — Katie Bailey is a freelance writer based in Toronto. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14, 2023.

Katie Bailey, The Canadian Press

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