Sort Of: Bilal Baig and Fab Filippo tease CBC’s most ambitious show

It’s part of CBC’s mandate to tell Canadian stories. To reflect the faces we see in our communities from coast to coast. So it was a true pleasure when the public broadcaster announced Sort Of would be headed our way.

Debuting Tuesday on CBC Gem before bowing next month on CBC, Sort Of is ambitious, hilarious and heartfelt. Co-created by Bilal Baig and Fab Filippo (Save Me), Sort Of tells the story of Sabi Mehboob (Baig), a fluid millennial who straddles various identities from a bartender at an LGBTQ bookstore/bar, to the youngest child in a Pakistani family, to the de facto parent of a downtown hipster family.

In the debut episode, “Sort Of Gone,” Sabi contemplates an opportunity that would change their life until an accident puts their new plans in jeopardy. With a cast boasting Grace Lynn Kung, Supinder Wraich, Alana Bale, Amanda Cordner and Gray Powell, Sort Of is definitely great. We spoke to Bilal Baig and Fab Filippo ahead of the show’s debut on CBC Gem.

Bilal, the idea for Sort Of came while you and Fab chatted during breaks a play you were both performing in, Theory. What was it about those conversations that got you excited about working with Fab?
Bilal Baig: I appreciated the sense of humour. I thought there was something really fun in figuring out what tickles each other. We had a similar sensibility in that our humour isn’t slapstick. I had also consumed both seasons of Save Me and got a sense that his sense of humour could be twisted too, and I’m all about that.

The other part of it was that he not only met me at every point in the making of this together, but he really brought his heart into it and I really appreciated that as a collaborator. It was really important that this was something we were really going to pour ourselves into.

Fab, what excited you about collaborating with Bilal?
Fab Filippo: Right off the bat, I got the sense that Bilal had an unusually clear voice for someone their age. I was taken by how they moved in the world and how much generosity they had in the world toward other people in helping see who they are.

At first, it was getting together to hang. And then, when we discovered we laughed at the same stuff and started to pitch ideas back and forth, it became really clear that there was a kinship and a kind of understanding of how to move forward in collaboration.

Sort Of co-creator Fab Filippo

Bilal, there is a lot of heart in Sort Of. Near the end of Episode 1 is a wonderful and funny scene between Sabi and their mother. Can you talk about walking the line in those moments?
BB: The word I’ve been using is truth. We didn’t go into this looking to load every episode with as many huge, knee-slapping jokes as possible. It was more, ‘What feels truthful in this moment? What would these characters actually say and do?’ What I love about that scene, in particular, is that there are these other messages inside the words that actually come out of peoples’ mouths and to strive for that is really exciting. It goes back to the type of humour Fab and I like and working with the writers we did—Jenn Engels, Ian Iqbal Rashid and Nelu Handa—they all got on board too.

Fab, how did the writing room work, with COVID?
FF: A lot of marathon Zoom meetings. [Laughs.] It was interesting to open it up to a writing room. It was, for the longest time, Bilal and I with the project. And then there is this vulnerability when you bring it to a room with the thoughts and ideas we had in our own, private, world. But they brought so much and added some much texture and dimension.

BB: It was kind of hard to step into my power because I was so in awe of these people who had come to serve this story. It’s one thing to create something on your own, but a whole other thing to have a room full of people dedicated to wanting to honour the vision. It was actually through Fab bringing me more and more into the process and reminding me that people want to hear from you and your voice is essential to all of this. I think I had forgotten that because I was so enamoured and scared.

Having two other South Asian folks in the room, the onus wasn’t just on one of us to get it right 100 percent of the time. If I missed something from our community, Nelu or Ian would step in. That was such a privilege.

Sort Of is available for streaming on CBC Gem on Tuesday. Sort Of debuts Tuesday, November 9, at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.