At first blush, Freeform feels like an unusual home for Single Drunk Female, Simone Finch’s semi-autobiographical dramedy about a 28-year-old woman working towards sobriety. Although the network has generaly shifted away from high school-centric fare in recent years, Single Drunk Female is heavier than the other shows in Freeform’s current lineup. In fact, with its emphasis on recovery, trauma, and grief, the series wouldn’t feel out of place on a premium cabler like HBO, where executive producer Jenni Konner previously co-created Girls with Lena Dunham.
However, it doesn’t take long to realize that Single Drunk Female is a great fit for Freeform, a network that has become synonymous with female-driven coming-of-age stories. With her 30th birthday on the horizon, Samantha Fink (Sofia Black-D’Elia) watches her friends excel at their jobs, form lasting relationships, and start having children, while she struggles to keep her life afloat as her dependence on alcohol deepens. Following an altercation at her BuzzFeed-style office, in which Sam misses (yet another) meeting and drunkenly assaults her boss (Jon Glaser), she’s left with no choice but to return to her Boston-area hometown, move in with her overbearing mother, Carol (Ally Sheedy), and face down the many triggers that led her to drink in the first place.
If you’re looking for an unlikable protagonist, rock bottom Sam fits the bill: she thinks she’s too good to work at the local grocery store, she lashes out at those closest to her, and she generally refuses to take responsibility for her actions. But after Sam joins a program and finds a sponsor in no-nonsense journalist Olivia (Rebecca Henderson), she realizes that these problems all stem from her drinking, and over the course of the first season, she slowly takes steps towards becoming a better person. Recovery is hardly a linear journey, but Single Drunk Female does a good job of moving Sam’s story forward while also finding humor in her misadventures.
As Sam transforms and finds her best self, Single Drunk Female, too, changes for the better. The pilot is a heavy, 25-minute affair that alternates between being glib and serious about Sam’s alcoholism, but humor starts to creep in as she embraces her journey and the new life taking shape around it. Black-D’Elia is well suited to this mix of comedy and drama, and her performance improves when the show leans into the more ridiculous aspects of sobriety, such as her character’s insatiable sex drive or her inability to avoid St. Patrick’s Day festivities (it is Boston, after all).
Black-D’Elia also holds her own alongside Sheedy, who’s the closest thing Hollywood has to coming-of-age royalty. Carol, a 50-something woman still grieving her husband’s death from leukemia, isn’t thrilled about having Sam back in the house, and she has a habit of slinging passive-aggressive comments at her daughter (“If you want to call yourself sick, call yourself sick,” she says, after Sam informs her that alcoholism is a disease). To be sure, Carol could probably learn a thing or two from Sam’s AA meetings, but that would first require acknowledging that she’s engaging in destructive behavior of her own. Sheedy has no problem navigating the subtle beats of Carol’s personality, though Single Drunk Female would benefit from giving her more screen time and allowing her to really explore this fraught mother-daughter relationship.
Beyond Black-D’Elia and Sheedy, Single Drunk Female fills out its world with a diverse group of actors. Not only does Massachusetts native Lily Mae Harrington, who plays Sam’s best friend Felicia, nail the accent and specific Boston-isms required of the show; she also serves as its go-to source for big laughs and one-liners. And as one of the few non-sober characters, Harrington’s Felicity is able to both encourage Sam’s sobriety and engage in her own drunken shenanigans. Inside the program, Olivia becomes something of a mentor for Sam, while her friendship with another member, James (Gerrick Bernard), helps to raise larger questions about dating in the early stages of recovery.
Through the lens of sobriety and recovery, Single Drunk Female aims to tell a story about one woman taking steps towards adulthood. Sam’s might not be the same journey that Freeform’s “becomers” are embarking upon, but it’s just as fulfilling. Finch’s exciting new series embraces every minute of it, from the messy, disappointing lows to the soaring highs, and the many moments of humor in between.
Single Drunk Female debuts with two episodes on Thursday, January 20 at 10:00 PM ET on Freeform. Following the premiere, new episodes are set to air Thursdays at 10:30 PM ET and stream next-day on Hulu.
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, Ally Sheedy, Jenni Konner, Sofia Black-D'Elia