She can be mean, bitter, immature, and selfish, but, like most of us, she’s working, and she’s growing, and most importantly, she’s trying. McEnany talked with us about how the show gets that message across, and how she hopes people realize that it’s true about our real selves as well.
Work in Progress lets us all know that no matter how much work we have to do, we still deserve happiness and community and love, simply because we’re human. One way the show did that in season one was having Abby date Chris, a young barista played by The Politician’s Theo Germaine.
“She’s fat, and she’s old, and she’s masculine presenting. She has massive mental illness, and she vomits words, and she’s clumsy and makes a lot of mistakes,” McEnany says of her character. So that we get to see good things come to her is something quite radical.
“I think that part is the revolutionary part,” she says. “That there’s a fat lead who is not palatable to America, that can still be seen as somebody who can have love.”
Even though Abby got to date one of the hottest actors in Hollywood today, the show was never meant to be a romance. At the end of the first season, Abby deadnamed Chris, and is learning to live with that in the second season.
“My whole thing about the show is that this is never some love story,” she says. “It’s a story about a character who is struggling with suicidal ideation and depression and feeling isolated, and then is too needy, and too messy, and too insecure.” But, she’s still human, and every human deserves community.
This second season is all about that. In a time where one mistake from your past can haunt you forever, McEnany wants to show us that even people who make huge mistakes, and who do terrible things, still deserve community. And she wants to show us that we can still find it.
“There’s a world out there where you can find chosen family and people who love you,” she says. “And there’s life without shame.” Both the real and the fictional versions of McEnany are working hard to remember that.
“I certainly f*ck up all the time, and all I want to do is become a better person, right?” McEnany asks. “And that starts with communication and not being defensive. And some people might bring up stuff, and you don’t have to agree with them all the time.” You just have to keep trying to do better.
Work in Progress shows how people can change and grow, even after decades, not only with Abby, but with its version of former Saturday Night Live star Julia Sweeney, who famously played the gender-ambiguous character Pat.
Back in season one, Abby confronted Sweeney about how hurtful the character was to her, and this season sees Sweeney trying to make amends, even though sometimes, she just makes things worse. But when she does, it’s not about getting points for trying, she’s expected to go and try again, and try harder.
“You make mistakes, take accountability and learn from them,” McEnany says. “I’m classist, I’m racist, I’m misogynist, homophobic, fatphobic. I’m all those things right? I’m a human being, and I'm working on those things. I want to be a better person.”
While shows like Ted Lasso and Schitt’s Creek have captured the cultural zeitgeist with their positivity, others might find more comfort in Work in Progress' sour optimism. It teaches us to all try to be better versions of ourselves but doesn’t shy away from the bitterness and ugly parts of being human. And in doing that, it tells the most authentic story of them all.