A catchy title can do both a lot of good and a lot of harm to a show. A title like “Smilf” (single mother I’d like to …) brings to the surface a lot of snap judgments. To launch a show, one wants to stand out and be memorable. However, it’s hard to do so without being a punchline. Those looking for a raunchy good time will be let down a bit by “Smilf.” It’s a fun show with quite a bit of adult material, but more adult than the laughs are the problems. The show comes from a Sundance award-winning short of the same name written, directed and starring Frankie Shaw, who remains the show-runner and star of the show. The show shows promise under Shaw’s care. However, the spark hasn’t totally caught fire in its opening.
“Smilf” centers around Bridgette (Frankie Shaw), a single mother and struggling actress. She lives in South Boston in a small apartment with her son, Larry (Anna and Alexandra Reimer), and near her unconventional mother Tutu (Rosie O’Donnell). Bridgette stays in contact with the Larry’s Father, Rafi (Miguel Gomez), but notices he’s dating again. Things seem to be getting serious between Rafi and his new girlfriend, Samara (Nelson Rose). This prompts Bridgette to take a look at her own love life and how she hasn’t had sex since Larry was born.
The show tackles Bridgette’s desire to balance all the wants and needs in her life with being a single mother. Between working for a well-to-do housewife (Connie Britton), going on auditions and caring for her son, Bridgette leaves no time for her own life and desires. Based on many of her own life experiences, Shaw conveys Bridgette’s dilemmas in a fresh and unique manner. True to the feminist roots of the show, each episode of the show has a female director attached to it. That care and authenticity seep through every element of the show.
The female point of view is important to the DNA of the show. Shaw insisted that all episodes of the show be directed by female directors. This helps focus the show and create a cohesive point of view. However, the star of the show both literally and figuratively is Shaw. She comes off a likable enough actress with some screen presence. However, her character doesn’t quite take off in as effusive a way. What’s stronger is the voice that shines through in her writing. The small annoyances and hang-ups that come as a young mother feel real, which is why comedy shines through from these moments.
Another advantage of having so many women involved is the show refrains from falling into easy pitfalls. It’s clear there’s no residual romance between Bridgette and Rafi, which allows the conflict to come from the different ways they wish to parent Larry. What Bridgette focuses on is not a man, but a sex life to compliment her work and parental life. She picks up an old friend for a casual fling, only for it to go very wrong once he gets the full scopes on all the different parts of her life she’s juggling, including Larry. These are more potent sources of conflict and comedy than traditional sitcom plots we’ve seen before.
Frankie Shaw comes off as a cool talent with a promising future on this show. However, the jury’s still out on how long it will take to find its stride. The closest point of comparison for the show may be Pamela Adlon’s much-lauded “Better Things” on FX. However, while that show accosts one with its confidence, something that very much works for that show, “Smilf” seems more tenuous. It’s found its subject but hasn’t found its voice. Yet, the cast of characters is all different and idiosyncratic enough to warrant giving the show time. With future episodes appearing to delve more into Frankie’s life as an actor, we should be treated to more dimensions for this interesting character.