Amanda Cordner and Bilal Baig in Sort Of
Growing up in a Toronto suburb in a traditional Pakistani Muslim family filled with "big, big personalities," Bilal Baig was "quiet, shy and nervous," which allowed them to observe how people "express themselves around each other." Now cocreator, executive producer, writer, coshowrunner and star of the HBO Max comedy Sort Of, Baig says they didn't expect to "contribute to television in this way."
Those early years of quiet observation led to a love of storytelling that blossomed through drama class. Using family memories as a jumping-off point, they began writing plays, including the breakthrough Acha Bacha, about a nonbinary Pakistani-Canadian who's reconciling their gender with their Muslim upbringing.
In the Toronto theater world, Baig met actor-producer-director Fab Filippo (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Queer As Folk), who saw parallels between the changes happening in his own life — namely, fatherhood — and those in Baig's journey. Together they created Sort Of, and Filippo (who's also an executive producer, coshowrunner and writer) directed four of the eight episodes.
Baig plays a part-time nanny named Sabi whose already chaotic life implodes when one of their employers (Grace Lynn Kung, Clarice) falls into a coma. Though every character grows in the first season, Baig felt it was important not to "give our lead character, this queer trans person, a completely transformative arc," preferring that they "only budge slightly on their human journey by the end of the season."
Sort Of won a Peabody Award and was the most-nominated series at the tenth Canadian Screen Awards (winning Best Comedy, Best Writing in a Comedy Series and Best Makeup).
CBC and HBO Max took a chance on them, Baig says, since they had "no training in television acting or writing." Much of the show's success, Baig adds, can be attributed to being
"completely listened to and respected" throughout the creative process. They feel more risks like this should be taken, but that genuine network support is equally important to set marginalized creators up for success.
With season two of Sort Of having just begun on CBC and premiering December 1 on HBO Max, Baig looks forward to how the new episodes explore love through friendship, family and romance. "It's really about being open to love in all its forms," Baig says. "I love that we get to do that this season — and through our lens, which of course is a little offbeat and queer."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #12, 2022, under the title, "Sentimental Journey."