Work in Progress: the concept, the talent, and plans for Season 2

Work in Progress
Abby McEnany

Showtime’s brilliant series Work in Progress is back for a second season. The hit series revolves around the life of a 45-year-old self-identified fat, queer dyke, Abby (Abby McEnany) as she encounters death, doubt, suicide and depression while becoming an altogether likable heroine.  

Abby McEnany, creator, writer, and star of series is a fixture in Chicago. She attended the University of Chicago in 1986, enrolled at Second City in Chicago in the 1990s, where she had Stephen Colbert as a teacher, joined Second City’s touring company, and was voted Improviser of The Year at iO Chicago in 2016. Work in Progress is written and filmed in Chicago and post production is done in Chicago at Periscope.

Chicago not only provides the backdrop for Work in Progress but also fuels it with talent. McEnany drafted many Chicago improv peers to work on the series, and in many cases, gave people the opportunity for staff positions on a major Showtime series.

In season 1, Abby decides to commit suicide after an overbearing coworker gives her a jug of almonds as a “healthy snack” in a passive aggressive attempt at fat shaming. Abby decides that she will toss the 180 almonds, one each day, and if her life hasn’t improved by the last almond, she will end it.

Her plans to commit suicide are complicated by an unexpected romance with adorable trans man Chris (Theo Germaine), who is 20 years her junior. The developing relationship challenges her to open up about her obsessive compulsive habits, suicidal ideation, self-loathing, and sexual hang-ups. She ended up destroying the relationship by the end of the season. 

On August 22, Season 2 opened with Abby dreaming about watching the sun rise over Lake Michigan as she awakens to the sound of her best friend’s (who now lives with her) CPAP machine. Abby spends the majority of the episode coping with her break from Chris and interviewing new therapists as she checks off a printed list of fails. She finds one she really likes and in the middle of an emotional breakthrough an unfortunate conflict of interest is revealed putting an abrupt end to their session.

Abby’s deep dark secret storage of notebooks is nearly destroyed from a leaky ceiling, which causes Abby great distress and she looks back at her childhood, when her anxiety became an issue for her and how her family life affected her. 

So far, season 2 does not delve into Abby’s love life but focuses more on friendships and the backgrounds of everyone in Abby’s closest circle.

McEnany told 5 Chicago in an interview, “In season one, Abby was going through a lot and a lot of people will jump in and take care of her. And I think a lot of times with mental illness like sometimes it’s hard to ask for help and you have to pretend you’re being okay because you don’t want to be a burden. So this season is a lot about, like Abby showing up for other folks, and then kind of trying to keep her own struggles to herself because it’s hard to always be asking and like people helping you.”

“This show was never about a love story,” explained McEnany while seated on stage inside the Directors Guild of America’s Theater 2 during an Outfest special preview event presented by Showtime in partnership with The Hollywood Reporter.

McEnany who herself suffers from OCD and depression said, “I’m somebody who’s usually single and I’m very happy about it. We live in a world where people, especially women, are often seen as valuable or worthwhile if they’re loved by somebody. It drives me to the f**king brink — add it to the list. It’s just a trope that really pisses me off. So, no, this show is really about how people get through life. How do people come together as a family? I survived because of my friends and my family.”

Another key figure in telling the story of Work in Progress is co-writer Lilly Wachowski. “She came out of retirement to do this,” McEnany said at the Outfest screening, of her friend whom she met in Chicago. “She’s just changed my life. To have somebody who, first of all, gives zero f**ks about what people think of her — how do you do that? — and then to trust me and give me a voice? She’s amazing and she defends me.”

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