The Sober Sitcom ‘Single Drunk Female’ Continues to Find New Wells of Dry Humor
Some people seek out the assistance of Alcoholics Anonymous after just one crisis — making a relationship-ending phone call; running over a mailbox; running up a credit card with a bout of drunken online shopping. In Freeform’s Single Drunk Female, Sam Fink (Sofia Black-D’Elia) has several pretty major crises in quick succession: fired for being drunk at work; arrested for hitting her boss (Jon Glaser) with a phone; sentenced to rehab; getting drunk again straight out of rehab; crashing a car into a party bus; being forced to move back into her childhood home with her prickly mother, Carol (Ally Sheedy).
Over the show’s first season, each episode counts out Sam’s sober days as she works her 12 steps and tries to mend her broken relationships. In the second — which premieres weekly airings on Freeform April 12th, with the whole season dropping on Hulu (and other on demand platforms) April 13th — Sam has to deal with the problems her sobriety hasn’t solved. Wait, don’t go: It’s funny!
When we pick back up with Sam, six months have passed since the Season One finale. Sam has returned to a job in media and even has her own desk! It’s directly outside the men’s room, but still! She’s feeling optimistic enough about her life to throw herself a 29th birthday party. She’s definitely doing better than some of the people around her. After Sam ended her romantic relationship with James (Garrick Bernard) in the Season One finale over his choice to break his sobriety, James has been on his own path. Brit (Sasha Compère) seems to be at peace with her finale decision to marry Joel (Charlie Hall), but may not be that convincing telling her circle that they’re having the “perfect divorce.” And this time, when a shocking breach of trust causes a rift between Carol and Sam, Carol is, unambiguously, to blame.
Carol’s betrayal, dark as it is, also opens up new storytelling avenues for the show. Carol has always been one of the show’s spikier characters: Her capacity to respect Sam’s sobriety has been shaky from the start, when she offers Sam wine following her rehab stint; and her sketchy understanding of the recovery process is still evident in the Season Two premiere, as she obliviously chooses a terrible topic to make small talk about with Sam’s sober friends. But this season, as Carol is forced to consider that she may need help for her part in Sam’s sober journey, Sheedy really gets to stretch Carol into new dimensions. She and Ian Gomez, who plays her boyfriend Bob, impressively dramatize the kinds of disputes that arise in relationships of middle age, to which each partner arrives having already lived a whole life. The season also brings us a Breakfast Club reunion as Molly Ringwald guest stars. As the sister to Sam’s late father David (Mitchell Hurwitz) in a flashback episode set at his shiva, Ringwald sets a new bar for hilariously passive-aggressive savagery, impressively lightening what is (obviously) an otherwise somber episode.
Aside from her mother, Sam has plenty to deal with. A management shuffle frees up her editor Alex (Ricky Velez) to date her, but also brings an old antagonist back into her life. And while their common sobriety let James and Sam sidestep some awkward conversations, Sam’s not sure how to navigate dating Alex given his status as a “normie” (AA slang for a functional social drinker). Though Sam is generally thriving at her writing job, she screws up an assignment to interview Bob the Drag Queen (as herself), proving that Sam can self-sabotage for reasons that have nothing to do with her drinking. Sam might have preferred their time together to have gone differently, but Sam and Bob’s scenes are pitch-perfect (and, I can say from personal experience, effectively capture the surreality of interviewing a particularly beloved subject). Also: I know Bob is playing herself, but she does it in a more natural, less self-conscious way than we sometimes see with scripted cameos like this. (Cast Bob The Drag Queen in more comedies!)
Even if the above sounds heavy, Single Drunk Female is legitimately funny. Like Mom before it, it’s made by people who are in the recovery community; its most absurd moments are born from a deep understanding of how oddly funny the process can be. For example, Carol’s belated choice to join Al-Anon — and to sulk through her meetings in the most Carol possible way — feels deeply authentic to the experience of a resistant relative. And I’d bet a dollar that a premiere gag regarding Sam’s friends’ birthday gifts for her came straight from a writers’ room anecdote.
Single Drunk Female has the classy problem of having created such a deep bench of supporting characters that not all of them get the screen time I would have liked this season. Joel and Brit’s “perfect divorce” could have benefited from deeper exploration. I also would have liked to see more about James’ connection with a community we didn’t really see him engage with in the first season. But given that Season Two includes all of the above and a meaty supporting role for Busy Philipps, these are minor complaints. Single Drunk Female remains a tasty mocktail.