It’s a hot April day in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley and Andrea Savage and I are talking in what looks like an abandoned 1960s log cabin, a humid room of whittled, fawn-colored wood and heavy drapery that doesn’t exactly jibe with the aesthetic of I’m Sorry the TruTV comedy, which Savage created and stars in, about a Southern California actress-mom with an extreme case of unapologetic foot-in-mouth disease.
It’s actually the offices of a church, and pretty much the only room on the property that hasn’t been used as a set for Savage’s show. As we speak, the cast and crew mill about the other buildings—adding set dressing for a preschool classroom or beating the heat by relaxing with craft services in the rec hall.
“If there’s a Season Two, I could set in a ski lodge/old gray aunt getting ready to die scene,” Savage jokes, before riffing on all the horrible and/or inappropriate things that could happen if her alter ego, Andrea Warren, were to make a last-ditch claim on some desirable family heirloom.
And if that sounds at all offensive, we’re just getting started.
A natural fit as a viewing companion for anyone who’s enjoyed the comic stylings of Louis C.K.’s Louie and Pamela Adlon’s Better Things, both on FX, or Larry David’s HBO comedy, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Savage’s series—which counts producers like Adam McKay, Will Ferrell and Andy Samberg—is a reminder of why we love to watch parenting and social situations go awry, while also championing today’s you-do-you mentality. Consider the first two episodes as teachable moments: how not to deal with the discovery that the mother of a student at your kid’s school is a former porn star; how to stop said offspring from making racist remarks.
Even the show’s title is both a lesson in the art of meta-sarcasm and a discussion of feminism—a way, Savage says, to take “the gravity out of” a phrase that’s become associated with the notion of “women being weak.”
“I feel like there’s been a lot of stuff on ‘women say I’m sorry too much,’” says Savage, who is probably best known to TV audiences for playing the female president who most certainly didn’t free Tibet on HBO’s Veep and for her participation in the evisceration of Bravo’s reality empire via Hulu’s The Hotwives parody series. “I very rarely feel like I say ‘I’m sorry’ too much. It’s rarely in a true ‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ It’s like, ‘I’m sorry. What the fuck did you just say?’ Or there’s ‘I’m sorry, but I’m not going to go along with that’.”
Like a new car owner who suddenly sees her exact make and model all over the roads, Savage has noticed some things about our society since giving her show its title. You know what? “Men say it just as much,” she says.
“I say this a lot to TruTV and they totally get it: This isn’t a show about a woman,” she says. “It’s a show about a person. You don’t say a show that has a male lead is a show about a man. I think my comedy has always been non-gender specific. I’m not super girly. I just wanted to make a funny show that’s not a dramedy; that’s truly a hard comedy.”
And the show is very much just that. In addition to a daughter obsessed with skin pigmentation and the revelation that someone in your play group may not have the most LinkedIn friendly resume, the debut season also covers what Savage describes as “stuff that people in their 30s and early 40s are going through”—i.e. fertility issues, divorce, relationships with parents and (in her words) “people who haven’t gotten married yet, but they’re getting to 40 and it’s starting to get weird.” The scene they were filming while I was on set involved taking the otherwise innocuous comment that a baby will grow up to be a heartbreaker one step too far.
The writers’ room, headed by showrunner Joey Slamon (Those Who Can’t, Arrested Development), is made up of five women and two men. Sometimes, it’s doubled as couples therapy.
“[Writer] Lon Zimmet’s wife says it’s the best job he ever had,” Savage recounts. “He kept coming home and saying, ‘Honey, is this something I do? I never thought about it before.’”
Again like Better Things, which is also about a mom and actress working in Hollywood, I’m Sorry also has a strong message about the roles available to women.
“You know, you get to a certain age where parts that are coming to you are moms and that kind of stuff,” she says. “I thought, ‘These roles are terrible. Why does the mom have to be not funny, sexless, always together and her husband’s a useless third child?’ I just kind of would step out of pilot season and say to my agents that if it says ‘a harried mom’ in the description, I pass.”
So Savage created a show that’s heavily based on her own experiences – good and bad, awkward and hysterical. Tom Everett Scott plays Mike, her character’s husband and the straight man to her banter, while Kathy Baker and Martin Mull play her divorced parents. Judy Greer plays Maureen, a friend who can’t help but delight in the misfortunes of others. Jason Mantzoukas plays Kyle, her perpetually single writing partner. Savage even invited the women who are part of her actual cardio ballroom dance class to be extras in a scene set there.
“Why does [being a mom] have to be such a defining part of who you are?” she asks. “It’s obviously somewhat of a defining part, but you can still be a cool person or funny or sexual or wrong or make a good choice or a bad choice.”
Don’t get Savage wrong; she didn’t set out to make “one of those shows where the mom is terrible, either.” This, she says, is not a story where “I’m so frazzled and I’m too frank with stuff.”
“I love being a mom,” she says. “I think I’m a pretty good mom. Do I always make the right decision? A hundred percent, no. [Sometimes I wonder] Why do I always have to be the grown up here?”
She says she had “preemptive conversations with some family members and would not do stuff that they don’t feel comfortable with” and that she’s actually a private person who does have stories she won’t tell on the show (or to a journalist—I tried). She jokes that it’ll be interesting to see who’s still talking to her at Christmas, but stresses that she’s not trying to do anything malicious.
“My sense of humor is never mean or taking the shit out of anyone, except potentially myself,” Savage says. “I truly think, even though it’s real stories, I don’t think anyone’s going to have their feelings hurt. It’s situational, and it’s stuff that I think people can relate to, [because] I think my stories are slightly more exaggerated versions of other peoples’ stories. But I do think it’s done with some respect.”
And if they are? Hey, she’s sorry.
I’m Sorry premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on TruTV.