Sometimes a show needs you to look past its name (Single Drunk Female) and its platform (Freeform) and give it a chance. The turning point for me was learning this series wasn’t about the wild exploits of a party girl meant to appeal to Freeform’s YA demo, but about a woman in her late 20s who comes to realize she’s an alcoholic. What follows is a show that unravels the consequences of Sam’s (Sofia Black-D’Elia) addiction, and her road to recovery.
Created by Simone Finch, the winning first season (which just wrapped and is available to watch in full on Hulu) has just one flaw: it’s not nearly long enough. At least, its episodes aren’t. Its structure—that of a half-hour series, which typically runs 22-minutes before commercial breaks—is the purview of comedy series and sitcoms. Though in recent years many shows (often on FX or HBO) have broken out of that mold to create half-hour dramas, they still often run longer than that, sometimes pushing 40 minutes or more. Single Drunk Female doesn’t adhere to a typical episodic act structure of a comedy, either; installments end in the middle of a scene, and as I’m waiting for the next plot turn I notice the credits rolling at the bottom and despair.
It’s a good problem for a show to have, living as we are in a time of streaming bloat and drama premieres that court movie runtimes. It also illustrates just how good the series is. I watch a ton of TV, I lament constantly that episodes and seasons are too long. But here? Every week I wanted more.
Single Drunk Female is also an anathema to TV’s love affair with alcohol. From Cougar Town to Scandal, women in particular are often shown guzzling wine glasses the size of fish bowls as a “way to unwind,” without consequence. Most shows that feature characters regularly getting drunk do so for comedic effect, either as a one-off or simply a way of life (like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, for instance). Or, in a drama series, a character suddenly develops a “problem,” it’s dispatched of quickly: there’s an intervention within an episode or two, or perhaps they’re dramatically killed off. Or maybe a sober character goes on a bender before they are set back to rights. Whatever the scenario, it’s extremely rare for a series to actually focus in on the issues with drinking culture and the consequences of it outside of, say, a flame-out on a lonely road. In particular, there are almost no series that make sobriety their key trait.
Where Single Drunk Female stands out even further is in how it translates this difficult subject (of waking up to your addiction and choosing sobriety in a sea of triggers) into a comedy. Granted, it’s loosely a comedy in any traditional sense, but the sets are bright and the dialogue is snappy. There are quirky side-characters and satirical jabs at Sam’s chosen career in media. The show takes something hard and depressing and makes it manageable for us to watch and experience in a context that’s relatable: Sam loses her job, has to move back home, is uncomfortable running into an old friend who’s now with Sam’s ex, takes a new crappy job just to pay the bills, and tries to become a better friend and daughter. But, the connecting factor is her alcoholism. She lost her job because she was drunk, she’s on probation because she drove under the influence and destroyed property, and her broken relationships come from her years of binge drinking.
In 10 quick episodes that take place over a year, Sam actually finds the redemption and new path that seemed impossible at the start. It required her to be humbled yet also to believe in herself enough to want to fight for something better, and mend what she could. In the end, that transformation feels earned, not rushed. Sam—the mess who couldn’t be trusted—becomes the responsible one, the rock on whom the others rely upon.
Hopefully Single Drunk Female doesn’t have to end here; there’s still so much to explore. Episodes around a sober person navigating St. Patrick’s Day, or family members who continue to drink in front of them, or friends who just keep pressing for just one drink… the series explored drinking culture from the other side, without judgement or prudish impulses. It’s just honest, raw, and a little bit funny, too. There is also a self-deprecating awareness felt throughout each episode. Sam is having to deal with the personal consequences of something that is glorified throughout society, especially in media. And that’s what makes Single Drunk Female work so well on two levels: it’s a great character study, but it’s also pushing back against positively-reinforced reckless portrayals of indulgence.
Like Sam must ask of those who knew her at her lowest points, Single Drunk Female requires you to come into it without preconceived notions and allow it work to impress you. From the show’s pop-indie style to its charming and compelling cast, it will do just that—if you let it.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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