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TELEVISION 'Work in Progress' spotlights Chicago, LGBTQ+ representation
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2019-12-10

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The new Showtime series Work in Progress really features queer represenation—arguably, more than such landmark series as Orange Is the New Black and Pose. With many of the actors and producers from Andersonville, Chicago audiences can look for the hotspots on the North Side throughout each episode.

The concept is simple: A 45-year-old, overweight lesbian named Abby is going through a tough time in life. The series follows Abby through adventures and various relationships.

Friends and family were treated to an early screening of the first two episodes of the new series on Dec. 6 at AMC River East 21. A red carpet was held before the screening, with much of the local cast and crew stopping by to chat about the series that evening.

The show was created and written by comedians Abby McEnany and Tim Mason and co-written by Lilly Wachowski, who many will know from past work with The Matrix and Sense8. Wachowski was excited to see the newspaper represented on site, exclaiming, "I came out in Windy City Times!"

One location used for Work in Progress was Highland Park's Ravinia Festival, during a Kesha concert. For that episode, the surroundings were altered to resemble a Dolly Parton concert. Wachowski said, "My partner and I had been to the Dolly Parton concert there earlier. I wanted to make it as queer an environment as possible, while keeping it local."

When asked about how trans visibility is changing in Hollywood, Wachowski said, "I have mixed feelings. We have our toe in the door and we are almost in the room. As much pressure as we are putting on that door, I feel there is pressure coming back, especially in the way that people rely on tired caricatures with a punchline. We are still cast as serial killers and murderers. It is so tiresome. I was just watching the show Mindhunter and the big reveal was the character likes to whack off in women's clothes. Why do people keep telling these stories? Why are they relying on tropes that do nothing but harm trans people in the end? I think change is glacial. You feel it in the end. It's like scum rising to the top. It's hard to be optimistic, but there's no other way to be in this world."

All the characters in Work in Progress only go by first names, and McEnany stars as Abby. When McEnany was asked how different the character of Abby is from her in real life, she explained, "There's a lot of me in that character, but anywhere from 30 percent to 96 percent, depending on the day. Some aspects are not there to protect me and my mental health. It's very close to me. I had never met Julia Sweeney in real life before, but being called Pat in a frat party did happen."

Theo Germaine—who flew in for the red-carpet event that day from filming Netflix's second season of The Politician—plays a trans man named Chris who starts dating Abby in the first episode. Germaine still resides in Hyde Park and was cast through an agent. Germaine said, "I'm excited for this show to finally be out. Abby is so talented and great. I wish I could write something like this about my life. It takes guts to really put yourself out there."

Mason has brought in many local Second City alumni, such as Nancy McCabe-Kelly and her husband, Bruce Jarchow, who said, "In a typical Chicago way, this story plays up the humanity of the characters. It is about what we all go through as people."

Celeste Pechous plays Campbell, Abby's best friend on the show. At the event, she said, "We are friends off camera so it was a very easy relationship to have on screen. We shot in my old stomping grounds of Rogers Park and Andersonville, so it was nice to come in from LA to visit."

The very funny Julia Sweeney plays herself in the series and has a moment with Abby during which her past Saturday Night Live character of Pat causes some trauma. Sweeney said, "This was such a crazy coming together of all the right elements to explore this topic. I get to defend Pat and at the same time, realize the damage that Pat has caused in the past."

Mason confessed on the red carpet that he's very self-conscious about being the straight member of the creative team. "I wasn't sure I was the right person to bring the story to life," he said. "Abby wanted us to do it together since we had from the beginning. I am a totally different person now and Work in Progress has changed my life. It has changed my attitude and hopefully, my compassion for the world."

Work in Progress tackles current hot topics like bathroom policies in one story arc. She said, "Being in the airport and scared to use the bathroom is defeating. The way I survive is through comedy. My family is very funny and we communicate that way. Looking at things through a comedic lens is important. We wanted to tell the truth. I think many people don't know how hard it is for gender nonconforming folks to use bathrooms. The harassment is crazy."

Mason said the bathroom episode was the most important part for him, adding, "I don't think about going to the bathroom, but it's so stressful for Abby. That was a light-bulb moment for me. The world has been built by people like me for people like me. I hope things will change after people see this series."

McEnany stood in front of the crowd in the theater and said, "We created this pilot on 30 grand and a lot of favors in the city of Chicago. Many of those were favors from people in this very room. It has been a journey and a whirlwind experience!"

After the screening and applause, Wachowski yelled, "Now, let's go party!" Guests then went to Beacon Tavern afterward to celebrate the Chicago premiere.

Work in Progress debuted on Showtime Sunday, Dec. 8, with new episodes on Sundays at 10 p.m. after The L Word: Generation Q each week. Find more information at SHO.com .


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