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In Praise of Single Drunk Female, Freeform's Refreshing Sobriety Comedy

Now in its second season, Single Drunk Female offers a frank look at one woman's journey towards recovery.
  • Sofia Black-D'Elia in Single Drunk Female (Photo: Freeform/Elizabeth Sisson)
    Sofia Black-D'Elia in Single Drunk Female (Photo: Freeform/Elizabeth Sisson)

    One of last year's best shows returns this week — and it's possible you've never even heard of it.

    Single Drunk Female, a Freeform comedy from Simone Finch, debuted to critical acclaim in January 2022, but it struggled to break into the cultural conversation over the course of its first season. Still, strong premiere ratings and next-day streaming earned the show a second season, and Finch hasn't wasted a minute of the opportunity. Single Drunk Female Season 2 (which premieres April 12 on Freeform and drops all at once on Hulu the following day) is an absolute triumph: The 10-episode season continues to find specific moments of humor in Sam's (Sofia Black-D'Elia) journey towards sobriety, all while expanding its scope to deepen the inner lives of the supporting characters in her orbit.

    Inspired by Finch's own recovery and her Massachusetts upbringing, Single Drunk Female stars Black-D'Elia as Sam Fink, a twentysomething alcoholic whose life went up in flames after she was fired from her digital media job and assaulted her boss (Jon Glaser). With no career, no relationship, and no friends to speak of, Sam was forced to move back in with her overbearing mother Carol (Ally Sheedy) in Malden, a small Boston suburb, and attend court-mandated Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Initially, Sam refused to accept that her drinking had become a problem — her first night back in town, she crashed a car into a party bus, resulting in a DUI and a year of probation — but when she found a sponsor in stern but loving journalist Olivia (Rebecca Henderson), she began to work the program in earnest. Over the course of the first season, Sam came to realize just how damaging her drinking was to herself and everyone around her, and she took small steps towards repairing her relationship with her mother and friends, party girl Felicia (Lily Mae Harrington) and high school bestie-turned-enemy Brit (Sasha Compère).

    Season 1 approached Sam's recovery from a place of immense compassion. Even when Sam was at her worst and most self-centered — when she was sleeping in the cereal aisle at her grocery store job or half-apologizing to Brit for excommunicating her after learning she was dating Sam's high school boyfriend Joel (Charlie Hall) — it was never suggested that she was beyond redemption, so long as she made a concerted effort to be a better person.

    This isn't to say that the people in Sam's life let her off the hook easily. Carol was reluctant to welcome Sam back into her home, knowing full well the dysfunction that followed her daughter in the past, while Felicia, a single mother, called out Sam for pigeonholing her as a drinking buddy and taking advantage of her kindness. "I would just love to rip my bra off and sit on the couch and watch some mindless TV with you," said Felicia, after Sam dragged her (and her son) to a roller rink where Brit and Joel were hanging out. "But no, you don't know how to do that because you don't know how to be an actual friend!"

    But the longer Sam remained in the program, the more she realized that the world doesn't revolve around her, and that her trauma (her father's cancer and eventual death) doesn't give her an excuse to treat others like crap. That perspective shift led to a breakthrough with her mother in Episode 9, "Higher Parent," in which Sam acknowledged all the harm she's done over the years, and Carol offered an apology of her own for being emotionally absent. Sam and Carol will never be Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, but their ever-present tension is what makes this relationship, and the show built around it, feel so real. Watching the push-pull between Sheedy and Black-D'Elia is one of the many delights of Single Drunk Female. Black-D'Elia is good on her own — she carries the show with her quick wit and willingness to embrace the various aspects of Sam's journey, from the comedic to the serious — but she's phenomenal when acting opposite Sheedy, a veteran who helps her co-star tease out Sam's hidden vulnerabilities.

    Single Drunk Female's greatest strength may be its ability to find humor in these moments of heaviness, which isn't a surprise considering Jenni Konner's (Girls) and Leslye Headland's (Russian Doll) involvement as executive producers. The show follows a familiar comedy structure: In each 22-minute episode, Sam faces a different obstacle in her recovery, some big (like Brit and Joel's wedding), and some small. Episodes focused on Sam navigating St. Patty's Day sober or rediscovering her sex drive made for some of the first season's funniest moments, as when Felicia helped a desperate Sam, her "Jewish jaguar," revamp her dating app profile. (In this scene, viewers also learn that Sam is bisexual, a part of her identity that's revealed with refreshingly little fanfare or judgment.) Even the tender, mother-daughter moment in "Higher Parent" delivered big laughs. Just before they began their apologies, Sam and Carol scattered David Fink's (Mitchell Hurwitz) ashes, and Sam was shocked to see just how much of him was in the urn. When Carol insisted "he was very tall," Sam disagreed, their natural inclination to fight winning out over the significance of the moment.

    Armed with new coping mechanisms, Sam emerges from Season 1 with her one-year chip and a strong support system, but in Season 2, that progress stalls. Six months after the events of the finale, Sam has landed a new job as a listicle writer at local media company (if you need someone to rank the "chunkiest chowdas" in the greater Boston area, she's your girl), but when she gets a new boss — none other than Glaser's Nathaniel — and Olivia moves away, leaving her without a sponsor, she begins to revert back to her old self. Sam doesn't drink, but she acts recklessly, and in her most selfish moments, she ends up stomping all over the feelings of those closest to her.

    Even as Sam replaces her urge to drink with new, destructive behaviors, there's fun to be found in her backslide. Her work situation makes for a hilarious satire of digital media: When Sam asks Nathaniel why he feels the need to compliment a woman's appearance, he suggests she turn her speech into a "hot take" column. She also expands her dating pool beyond AA when she begins seeing a "normie," Alex (Ricky Velez), and once she's able to get past her insecurities — rather than tell Alex she's sober, Sam spends an uncomfortable amount of time during their first date rambling about being on antibiotics — Black-D'Elia and Velez find an easy chemistry. Later in the season, Busy Philipps joins the cast as new sponsor Darby, who brings a zany, chaotic good energy to a storyline about Sam searching for her "higher purpose."

    While Sam still drives the plot, Single Drunk Female Season 2 spends more time with the show's supporting characters, particularly Carol. Sheedy's character experiences a regression of her own when she invades Sam's privacy and reads her personal inventory, stirring up the many resentments they put aside last season. At the urging of her boyfriend Bob (Ian Gomez), Carol reluctantly begins attending Al-Anon, and the friends-and-family program forces her to confront harsh truths about her marriage and parenting of Sam. A flashback episode set during David's shiva offers further insight into Carol's psyche — not to mention, it sees Sheedy reunite with her Breakfast Club co-star Molly Ringwald, who plays David's judgmental sister.

    Brit's and Felicia's roles are similarly expanded. Season 1 ended with Brit, still in her wedding dress, expressing her regret over marrying Joel; in Season 2, she and Joel are in the process of divorcing, setting off a crisis of confidence for a woman who has never failed at anything. Meanwhile, Felicia finds herself in a serious relationship with Pete (Ben Thompson), a surgeon who comes from an entirely different world than the free-spirited hairdresser. By separating Brit's and Felicia's storylines from Sam's journey, Single Drunk Female gives Compère and Harrington a chance to really shine, and they take full advantage of their increased screen time.

    With Abbott Elementary and Ted Lasso dominating the genre, it will always be difficult for a smaller comedy like Single Drunk Female to draw eyeballs. But make no mistake: The Freeform show has just as much to say about facing adversity and becoming the best version of ourselves as its esteemed peers, and it deserves the same amount of praise. A Single Drunk Female Emmy win may be a pipe dream, but at the very least, if enough people tune in, perhaps we can will a third season of this heartfelt, immensely funny comedy into existence.

    Single Drunk Female Season 2 premieres Wednesday, April 12 at 10:00 PM ET on Freeform and streams in its entirety Thursday, April 13 on Hulu. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Single Drunk Female, Freeform, Hulu, Ally Sheedy, Charlie Hall, Lily Mae Harrington, Sasha Compère, Simone Finch, Sofia Black-D'Elia