There’s a certain word Andrea Savage never wants to see again when going out for a role. That word is “harried,” as in the resigned weariness of a frumptastic matriarch whose dreams have long since died.
“I was coming off of a pilot season one year where I think just every script, literally in the description of the character was, like, ‘a harried mom of three,'” the writer and performer says. “I just told my agent afterward that if the word ‘harried’ is in the character description, I pass. Don’t even send it to me. I have passed.”
As an actress, Savage was inundated with roles she found unrelatable: women whose every personality quirk seemed filtered through the minefield of momliness. It’s an issue she likely won’t have to navigate next pilot season, however, since Savage launched her own show, I’m Sorry, on TruTV this summer. Finally, there’s a comedy on TV that both champions and cringes at the kind of woman its creator and star felt was missing from the medium: someone like herself.
People tell Andrea Savage it’s weird that she’s a mom. She’s even been the one to say it before, usually after filming vulgar scenes on shows like The Hotwives of Orlando and Veep, or movies like Step Brothers. So naturally, people end up saying the same thing to Andrea Warren, the barely veiled version of herself Savage plays on I’m Sorry. Much like her real-life namesake, Andrea Warren is a person who is funny in a way TV moms are generally not permitted to be. She’s a comedy writer who struggles to regulate the firehose of her joke brain–especially around other parents.
“When your kid goes to school, you’re put in contact with a lot of other adults that you wouldn’t have anything necessarily in common with, except that you all had sex around the same time,” Savage says.
In one scene, a group of parents is catching up at an elementary school, and when one mom excitedly predicts that her little boy is going to be a heartbreaker someday, Andrea Warren can’t help herself. In the same cheerful tone, she suggests that another parent’s kid might grow up to be a real “cocktease.” It’s a faux pas that’s clearly not PTA-friendly, but it may be more true to real life than network TV suggests.
“A lot of times if you have a child on a more mainstream show, people judge the mom’s choices very harshly and so it’s hard to actually make a funny mistake,” Savage says. “It just limits the range of humor that the female character can do. Or there’s really funny female characters on TV who are really just shitting the bed as parents, like Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Veep, who is a terrible mother but so funny. I wanted to find that middle ground of still being able to be funny, but actually enjoying being a parent and doing a pretty good job.”
In between those two extremes is the comfortable niche Savage is carving out–a TV mom whose poor choices are relatively benign, but never boring, and are symptoms of a personality that transcends parenthood.
If the situations on the show feel authentic and lived-in, that’s because they are. Almost all the major moments from the show, which airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m., are based on true stories from Savage’s life. To wit, her daughter really did point to the whitest flesh on the underside of her arm and declare, “I like skin that’s this color the best.” Savage really did have to learn what a Goddess Party is, in order to throw one for her recently divorced friend. She and her husband really do host a monthly poker game at their house, and it was there that Savage really did learn that her daughter’s friend’s mom was a porn star.
It’s a highly personal show, and it’s the culmination of a torturous, career-length effort to get a series inspired by her life on air.
“I think this is the eighth show that I’ve developed,” Savage says. “I had developed one at NBC, ABC, Fox, and Comedy Central twice. And for the most part, they were all positive experiences, but it’s just so frustrating.”
Although there’s been an increase in women-centric comedy films like Bad Moms and Girls Trip recently, Savage has also bumped up against the gatekeepers while trying to get something on the big screen. Before the release of Bridesmaids, whose success preceded those more recent films, Savage wrote a female ensemble screenplay of her own for Castle Rock. She staged a table read for the project, titled Girls Weekend, and brought in Kristen Schaal, Kathryn Hahn, and Lizzie Caplan to assist. It was a hit in the room, but never found its way to a larger audience.
“Everyone said, ‘You have to wait until Bridesmaids comes out,’ and so I waited to send out the script,” Savage recalls. “Then Bridesmaids came out, and then they went, ‘Well, we’ve already had the big female ensemble comedy come out, so . . .'”
Although Girls Weekend may have stalled out years ago, films in a similar vein are beginning to be seen as less a financial risk. Perhaps Hollywood is waking up to the fact that audiences will pay money to see funny women be funny. Meanwhile, Savage is currently enjoying the best of both worlds. She’s appearing in movies, like this summer’s The House with Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell, while showcasing her talents as a writer, performer, and showrunner on TV.
Between I’m Sorry and FX’s Better Things, created by and starring Pamela Adlon, the network TV conception of a working mom is finally revealing itself to be rather . . . harried.