Bilal Baig as Sabi on the Max series "Sort Of," whose third and final season premieres Thursday.
Personal growth isn’t often linear. It usually comes in fits and starts.
Over the last few years, it has been great to see a wider range of TV series, especially half-hour comedies, embrace that. From “Insecure” to “Chewing Gum,” and from “Fleabag” to “Russian Doll,” they show their complicated lead characters heading toward more realistic resolutions, rather than something too neat and pat, too tailor made for a TV show.
At times, the “messy protagonist stumbling through life” premise has become a trope. But at their best, these kinds of shows deftly fuse the personal with the big picture. One of the more undersung recent shows that both fits that admittedly loose description, and is also uniquely its own, is “Sort Of,” whose third and final season begins Thursday on Max, after premiering on CBC in Canada last fall.
Each season of the show has followed star and co-creator Bilal Baig as Sabi, a nonbinary Pakistani Canadian in their 20s, navigating adulthood, jobs, family and cultural pressures, friendships and dating. The series has been groundbreaking for its nonbinary representation. Beyond Sabi, many of the show’s supporting characters are also queer. The show beautifully finds the balance between showing a rich tapestry of queer characters, while also allowing each character to be more than their identities and not putting labels on them.
This final season (which Baig and co-creator Fab Filippo have stressed was their decision) follows Sabi in the aftermath of several seismic events, particularly the death of their father at the end of Season 2. They are also starting the process of receiving gender-affirming health care and medically transitioning, figuring out both the physical changes, as well as how to tell the people around them.
Much of the show is about Sabi’s family, both blood and chosen. One of the great strengths of “Sort Of” is that it never seems to give short shrift to anyone, allowing many of its secondary characters moments of personal growth as well. Some of those richly developed subplots this season include Sabi’s sister, Aqsa (Supinder Wraich), alternating between trying to support Sabi, while also feeling emotionally neglected as she undergoes some big life changes. Meanwhile, their mom, Raffo (Ellora Patnaik), is navigating the complicated grief following her husband’s death, and figuring out how to better prioritize and express her own emotional needs.
Aqsa (left) and Sabi in Season 3 of "Sort Of."
There’s also Sabi’s deep and complex relationships with their friends and former employers Bessy (Grace Lynn Kung) and Paul (Gray Powell), and their kids Violet (Kaya Kanashiro) and Henry (Aden Bedard). Sabi used to be the kids’ nanny and became close to the entire family. But Sabi kissed Bessy at the end of Season 2, throwing a wrench into their dynamic. Bessy and Paul are also working on repairing their marriage after a number of big family stressors, particularly Bessy’s recovery from a near-fatal accident earlier in the series, which brought out a lot of complicated feelings in Paul. In a lesser show, it might all feel too unwieldy. Yet “Sort Of” efficiently weaves these storylines together, with Sabi as their common thread.
Final seasons of shows often place their protagonists into a moment of having to figure out a lot about themselves. Sabi is certainly in one of those moments, but it always feels real and lived in. For instance, a lot of this season of “Sort Of” focuses on Sabi needing to not hold so much inside, to tell their loved ones the hard stuff in their life, even — and especially — when it feels hard. As Sabi’s best friend 7ven (Amanda Cordner) tells them in one scene: “Why do you have to think so hard before telling me how you are?”
Toward the end of the season, Sabi has a meaningful conversation with their friend and mentor Deenzie (Becca Blackwell), who has abruptly decided to move to Costa Rica. “I’m in a weird place,” Deenzie, a trans man, tells Sabi. “I feel like I did when I first transitioned: out of my skin. I don’t know. I just want to go be somewhere where there are no preconceived notions of me for a bit.”
One of the great joys of watching “Sort Of” is that each of its characters gets to avoid preconceived notions of how they might be typically portrayed on screen. In the process, the show itself gets to be more than those preconceived notions as well, becoming something that’s one of a kind.
Without getting into how it all ends, the series leaves Sabi and all of its characters with just the right balance of having some kind of “closure,” and inching into a new chapter of their lives, with all of the uncertainty that comes with it. Only this time, they’re all better equipped to deal with that uncertainty. Isn’t that what personal growth is really about?
The final season of “Sort Of” premieres Thursday on Max, with two new episodes airing weekly.