Showtime’s Refreshingly Different ‘Work In Progress’ Has Its Origins in the World of Improv

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This month, Showtime is introducing a fascinatingly diverse Sunday evening lineup of programming. It’s headed by the return of The L Word in a sequel series. That series will lead into a new comedy called Work in Progress that is not only refreshingly different in terms of the types of characters regularly portrayed on television, but also in its engaging and hilarious format.

That format is inspired largely by the previous work of the show’s star/co-creator/cowriter/co-showrunner Abby McEnany, who has been a longtime staple of Chicago’s improv scene. Together, she and Tim Mason, another Windy City improv-er, have fashioned a unique and touching “human comedy.”

McEnany plays a somewhat dramatized version of herself — Abby, a 45-year-old self-identified queer dyke in Chicago whose misfortune and despair (as the series begins, Abby’s therapist suddenly dies while Abby is talking about her plan to one day kill herself) unexpectedly lead to a vibrantly transformative relationship.

Though novices at television when they began, McEnany and Mason did have some big-name support in turning what started as online shorts into a more fleshed-out pilot that took a whirlwind journey from the Sundance Film Festival to Showtime. Lilly Wachowski, co-director of the Matrix films, is a showrunner and writer. Former SNL star Julia Sweeney appears in the pilot as a fictionalized version of herself and is hilarious, even as she confronts the unintended hurtful impact that her androgynous early ’90s character Pat has had on the LGBTQ community.

But the show largely succeeds thanks to McEnany’s funny, unassuming and sweetly affecting performance. “Sometimes I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s kind of based on me,’” she told us. “And then I’m like, ‘It’s really 98 percent.’… I would say a lot of it’s me, but my therapist didn’t die in session.”

Sundays beginning Dec. 8
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