Television

I’m Sorry Shows That Comedians Can Be Raunchy Without Being Monsters

Take note, Louis C.K.

Andrea Savage sits on a bed in I'm Sorry.
Andrea Savage in I’m Sorry.
TruTV

From its title on, I’m Sorry advances in a defensive crouch. The TruTV series’ central conceit—that a woman can be both a devoted mom and a filthy comedian—seems like an argument so obvious it shouldn’t have to be made. The show’s humble production values mirror its Larry David–low stakes: feeling disconnected to a spouse, explaining Nazis to a 5-year-old, planning a goofily New Age–y “goddess party” for a divorcée friend. Set amid an easy Los Angeles affluence, I’m Sorry is, like its antecedents Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, a character study in observational-sitcom mode that explores the consequences of a comic’s id let loose in the real world. But its largely familiar portrayals of comedians as “disgusting, broken people” and motherhood as a stadium for competitive nurturing belie the series’ quiet ambitions and exceptional strengths.

Sometimes you watch a show and can’t believe it hasn’t existed before. That’s certainly the case with I’m Sorry, which replaces the slob husband/supportive wife sitcom formula of yore with a dynamic much more familiar to me: that of the playfully button-pushing wife and the patiently put-upon husband simultaneously charmed and exhausted by his wife’s baroque, aggressive teasing. Marriage is where comedy writer Andrea’s (star and creator Andrea Savage) creative and domestic lives come together, the marital bed a stage for the kinds of jokes so intimate and discomfiting they’re often intelligible, and perhaps utterable, to an audience of one. In the Season 2 premiere, which debuted last week, Andrea uses her mom’s (Kathy Baker) accidental nip slip by the pool to make her husband, Mike (Tom Everett Scott), squirm, this time in front of his mother-in-law: “Do you see a family resemblance in the nipples? Because I’ve always thought I’ve taken after my father in that way.” Mike’s a perfect comedian’s spouse: a willing target, a superfan, and a fellow joke critic. They might be the only pop culture worth the hashtag #RelationshipGoals.

Though Andrea’s writing partner (Jason Mantzoukas) and most of her comedy pals (among them Nick Kroll and Paul Scheer) are men, I’m Sorry makes the implicit case that there are no more natural comedians than wives and mothers, i.e., the people who know everything about you. Andrea and Mike’s healthy-verging-on-wholesome marriage—and the safe space and infinite opportunities it provides for endless riffing—pushes back against the idea that you need to be some sort of psychological monster to be a professional funny person. Still, the structures for compartmentalization sometimes break down, and several episodes find Andrea having to explain her bluer comments to fellow parents at her daughter’s school. When some mommies coo that a preschooler will grow up to be a “heartbreaker,” Andrea can’t help satirizing the projection, clumsily using a nearby little girl to make her point: “She’s going to be a little cocktease.”

Other than his uxoriousness, Mike’s a bit of a blank. But Savage and her writers have otherwise crafted a solid cast of supporting characters, particularly in Andrea’s divorced parents: a delightfully loopy mother and sexual-degenerate-wannabe father (Martin Mull). More than a few storylines are sparked by Andrea’s decidedly nonprecocious daughter, Amelia (Olive Petrucci), whose regressive instincts seem less a contrivance than the unforced consequence of meticulously feminist parenting.

I’m Sorry doesn’t break new ground, but it’s refreshing nonetheless to see a brash, obnoxious female comedian adored for those qualities, as well as a woman so waggishly confident in her attractiveness that she brags about the diminutive size of her vagina in front of her young daughter. But her sexual candor has other uses, too. When Mike says he wouldn’t mind if their daughter turned out gay, Andrea clocks him for his unintended sexism: “Don’t act so cool and open-minded. I know what you’re doing. Typical dad with a daughter. You don’t want a boy putting a penis inside her. … Just so you know, even if she is a lesbian, there’s still toys, so there’s still going to be something inside her.” And at a time when Louis C.K.’s too-soon return is prompting some, including C.K. himself, to simplistically hail transgressiveness as a virtue in its own right, I’m Sorry is a reminder, along with shows like Big Mouth, Broad City, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, that you can be as disgusting as you wanna be, while also being thoughtful, even kind, about which lines you cross and why.