Warning: Spoilers for Sort Of to follow.
The third and final season of Sort Of, the Peabody Award-winning slice-of-life dramedy created by Bilal Baig and Fab Filippo, concludes on a perfect full-circle note. After turning down an opportunity to accompany their best friend to Berlin in the show’s pilot, lead character Sabi Mehboob (Baig) finally takes the plunge and hops on a plane to Berlin in the series finale. “The third season mirrors the first in many ways,” Baig recently told W, explaining the significance of that endpoint. “We were really intentional about that.”
Much about Sort Of feels intentional. Telling the story of Sabi, a nonbinary, second-generation Pakistani-Canadian bartender and nanny (who, like many twenty-somethings, is still figuring out what they want from life), the series intimately explores issues of identity, relationships, and familial obligations in a sensitive yet decidedly direct manner. Baig was only 25 when they started developing the series alongside Filippo, but by tapping into their trademark bone-dry humor, Sort Of arrived fully-formed—even if its central character would need some time to fully form themselves.
But in its third and final season, Sabi finally learns how to put themselves first—whether that’s by beginning their medical transition, diving deeper into a romantic relationship, or earnestly opening up to their closest confidantes (including their sister, Aqsa, and their mother, Roffo) about the nuances of their queer identity. It all makes for a compelling last hurrah that not only provides closure for our main character but for everyone in their orbit, too. By the time Sabi impulse buys that business-class ticket to Berlin, it feels like the messy millennial we’ve been following since 2021 is truly ready to take control of their own destiny. Sure, they may not have anything arranged for their arrival in Germany, but as Baig says, “I love that this show can end, and yet, there’s still so many possibilities and questions. People can hopefully dream about where they feel these characters go. I love an ending that begins.”
What made you decide to end Sabi’s journey now, after three seasons?
When Fab [Filippo] and I were throwing around what we thought the third season could be about, it just felt like, narratively, we were reaching a pretty satisfying ending. In the pilot, Sabi could have gone to Berlin, but instead, it takes them three seasons. I love the simplicity of that story, and I love that we caught the detour. So often, we see stories that are about the “adventure,” but this detour created its own adventure for Sabi.
Also, we never imagined that it was going to go on forever, because it’s such a slice-of-life show. I didn’t want it to start to feel false. When too much happens, it starts to feel like, Really? This person is going through all of this? So there was something that really felt right about ending it now.
You have so many different roles in the show: you’re the star, but you’re also the creator, a writer, an executive producer. This is the first TV show you’ve been involved in, so how did it feel to have your hands in so many different pockets?
Intense, for sure! I was 25 when this all started. It was a crash-course, but I learned so much [so about what goes on behind the scenes to even get a show made in the first place. There are really amazing people who work on this show that made my jobs more manageable. I feel really privileged in that way. It wasn’t a nightmare experience that’s traumatized me forever. I love that I pushed myself artistically, too. I didn’t know I could write for television, or co-showrun something, or executive produce. But I like feeling that way as an artist, doing something that feels impossible.
Do you feel like you’ve grown alongside your character?
I think so. Well, I didn’t go to electrician school, thank god [laughs]. I didn’t spend a lot of my life doing things I didn’t want to do. I’ve actually spent a lot of my life doing things I really love. So that, I know, has always set me apart from Sabi, and [there] was beauty in playing someone totally searching and wandering. But I do reflect a lot on what it takes to center yourself and your own needs and desires, especially if you’re marginal in any way.
Part of what makes Sort Of stand out from the pack is that very concept of “centering” someone who’s marginalized—in this case, a nonbinary Pakistani-Canadian, which I don’t think I’ve really seen anywhere else on television. Given how rare a character like yours is, did you ever feel any burdens of representation?
When we were first conceiving this show, we were aware that it was going to feel different, whether it turned out good or bad, because [we were] centering this character. Maybe I’m making it sound too fairytale, but if you’re working with amazing, feminist producers, they’re coming in knowing that other South Asian writers need to be working on the show from the start. So that really took pressure off, because I wasn’t the singular brown voice. I also wasn’t the singular trans voice. We consulted with a lot of different trans people on the first season, shared our scripts with them, got their feedback. So, yes, I was aware of the “firstness” of it all, but it just didn’t feel healthy to focus on that.
Why does Sabi make this huge decision to go to Berlin alone?
It’s a major step in their development as a human being. Berlin and the decision to medically transition are linked, too. It’s a total rebirth. It’s like, Let me just go for what I want and not always be so concerned about what other people think. I thought that was really important to illustrate in Sabi’s arc, for somebody who’s non-binary, trans-femme, and brown. I think that’s just the whole arc: Sabi unravels, their guard goes down a little bit, and then they take some risks.
By the finale, pretty much any character that had struggled to understand Sabi in the past has grown to accept them. Do you think of your show as being optimistic?
Totally. In the season one writers’ room, we talked about how we were going to make a gentler world than maybe our real world is. Part of the impetus behind creating Sort Of was so that we could watch a trans person not get killed—that was something that I was carrying with me from the start. But it felt important to also take our time with these arcs, so that these characters didn’t turn around and suddenly become these wonderful allies. Even in this third season, Sabi’s mom walks away from Sabi after she hears that they’re taking hormones. But overall, yes, we were totally intentional about offering that hopefulness to trans and non-binary people.
Sabi comes from a Muslim household. How did you decide how Sort Of would confront religion with respect to queerness?
We knew from the start that Sabi wasn’t going to agonize over their transness or their fate. The second episode this season, which takes place in the mosque, shows that. I thought it was important to show that there’s a spectrum here, too: of people who kind of get it, who don’t really get it, and who don’t get it at all but are open to learning. It was important to humanize all these identities. There’s been so much media that maybe influences people to think otherwise, but again, it helped having other South Asian writers in the room. We could really talk it out together.
One of my favorite moments this season is when Deenzie silently recognizes that Sabi has started taking hormones—mainly, because Deenzie is also trans and can pick up on cues that cis people never would. In a show where there’s only one trans character, we’d never get a moment like that. How important was it for you to spotlight a multiplicity of queer perspectives?
Really important. I thought, How fun would it be to see trans-femmes and trans-masc people together, talking to each other? It just felt like what I understood my social group to look like: there’s older folks, there’s trans dudes and trans women, there’s cis people, for sure, and straight folks, too. We really wanted to show how certain cis people might respond to somebody transitioning and contrast it with someone who’s lived it for a very long time. I love the intergenerational-ness of it, too—Deenzie, in their own quirky way, has been a guide, this mentoring figure for Sabi. We were really blessed to have a team of writers and producers who were just like, “Yeah, this makes sense. Let’s not over-explain it.”
In 2022, Sort Of won Best Comedy Series at the Canadian Screen Awards, but you personally refused to submit yourself because of the gendered performance categories. The following year, they made the performance category gender-neutral—and you won. Did you ever consider how large of an impact Sort Of would also make in the real world, beyond itself?
No! In that instance, it just didn’t make sense. I was like, “I can’t submit for either of these categories.” And I was good! It wasn’t my end goal to do this work so I could have even more attention on me. I otherwise like laying pretty low. But in Canada, there were conversations about neutralizing the acting awards before Sort Of existed. We were just the push over the edge, which, yeah, I feel really great about. I love that trans and non-binary people have a real chance of being recognized for their work going forward. Back then, I was just like, “I’m not doing it. I don’t need to feel weird in a category just so that I could maybe win it.” It feels strange to ask trans and non-binary people to do that and assume that it’s okay.
Sabi obviously ends the show going to Berlin. If ever given the chance, would you be open to exploring Sabi’s adventures in Berlin, in a potential Sort Of spinoff?
[Laughs] No. I feel pretty hungry to explore other things. Maybe in 10 years or something, but I think, at that point, no one will care. For right now, I’m returning to theater a little bit and I’m curious about making a feature film. So, no, I don’t think we’ll see Sabi in Berlin.
All three seasons of Sort Of are now streaming on Max.