REVIEW

"Single Drunk Female" isn't just sobriety TV. It's a show that makes recovery feel universal

We're all exhausted, something that Freeform's dryly humorous, empathetic sobriety tale understands too well

By Melanie McFarland

Published January 20, 2022 7:20PM (EST)

Single Drunk Female (Freeform/Elizabeth Sisson)
Single Drunk Female (Freeform/Elizabeth Sisson)

"Single Drunk Female" is an "of these times" show that skips over the COVID part of life circa 2022-ish. People probably won't mind that, even ones who usually do, because the show does such a bang-up job of replicating how heavy life feels right now without putting its characters in masks or talking about vaccines.

Alcoholism is the disease around which this story revolves, one that brings Samantha Fink (Sofia Black-D'Elia) to her knees, costing her friendships and a good job, and generally delaying her launch into independence.

Her situation has nothing to do with the pandemic . . . until we come to understand how much of Samantha's first hours, days and weeks of sobriety are a struggle through exhaustion. That part hits close to home.

If television is a mechanism that both defines and moves with the current of fashion, "Single Drunk Female" is right on time in this respect and others. Debuting in the midst of Dry January guarantees its alignment with a surge in temperance trends.

RELATED: The key to a successful "Dry January"

Just as many people, if not more, are headed in the opposite direction of willful sobriety, a product of pandemic exhaustion and depression. You know, those ongoing concerns we met in early 2020 with joking/not joking about day-drinking.

Series creator Simone Finch recently explained in a Television Critics Association press conference that the seeds for this show began germinating in 2012, before she got sober. So if this story about substance abuse recovery derived from her own life feels relatable to folks living out the definition of surge depletion that is coincidental.

Samantha is messy when we meet her, which coincides with the final inebriated moments before she's fired from her media site job. One court mandated month in rehab later, she's moved back to Boston with her self-absorbed mother Carol (Ally Sheedy) whose main concerns as she picks up her daughter from rehab are a) not being late for her spiritual book club meeting, and b) how much Samantha talked about her in therapy.

Carol is a classic undermining parent, smiling brightly while nitpicking her child's efforts to apply concealer to her zits, and Sheedy plays her like a length of barbed wire brought to life. Her comic chemistry with Black-D'Elia keeps the show flowing with black humor.

Balancing that out is Rebecca Henderson's bone-dry delivery as Sam's reluctant Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor Olivia and Lily Mae Harrington's party girl Felicia, who is equally Sam's biggest supporter and the devil on her shoulder always luring her back out to the bar. Garrick Bernard's droll yet down-to-Earth James is also wonderful as a friend Samantha gets to know for the first time in meetings . . . even though it's not the first time they've met.

The opening episodes are very good at conveying the raw irritation of sober life to someone who's a newborn to it. Samantha is grieving her father's recent death and a break-up with her best friend Brit (Sasha Compère), and the writers excel at presenting these as contributing factors, not excuses, in Sam's journey from self-loathing and egotism into responsibility.

Even so, "Single Drunk Female" doesn't relinquish the right for Sam and everyone else in recovery to laugh at themselves at their best and worst. Jojo Brown's Mindy Moy gets the cream of these moments as Samantha's fellow AA member and new boss at the local grocery store, who gently smacks the air out of her ego at work and refuses to sit too close to her sloppiness at meetings. "I'm your chic friend who needs you to try a little harder," Mindy tells Samantha – but truly, isn't she reading everyone who's traded in couture for sweatpants?

This being a story about resetting from a wild life of black-out partying to a new one centered in alcohol-free stability, Samantha does her best to abide with all of it.

This being a comedy shaped in part by the sensibilities of executive producer Jenni Konner ("Girls"), Samantha and everyone who puts up with her are blessed with the gift of snark and full to the brim with empathy as they have conversations about working the steps and avoiding triggers, and call Samantha out for her immaturity.

I should note that the appeal of "Girls" escaped me entirely; I grasped why it was a cultural phenomenon while never finding any of main characters to be anything short of insufferable. Maybe it's because its creator's paradigm is a galaxy removed from my own. Having said that, "Single Drunk Female" similarly benefits from Finch's introspection about her sobriety, filtered with care and grace through Black-D'Elia performance.

Through her, Samantha's struggles feel universal, in that you don't have to have battled cravings for drugs and alcohol for her perpetual life fatigue to speak to you. There's a "been there" familiarity to Samantha's failed attempt to sneak a nap during a shift at her new grocery store job. It's because she's nine-days sober and her body is adjusting to sleeping free of depressants, but haven't we all felt like crawling behind a row of cereal boxes to sack out at some point recently?


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And who doesn't crave the tangible return to community as we crawl past the two-year mark in a pandemic that's teased so many promises of bright new days only for us to slip into yet another hangover from darker months?

Millions of us are going though our versions of detox and rehabilitation right now, real and metaphorical. It must be said out that actual recovering addicts have had a far tougher run in a pandemic that has forced many of the community gatherings that are essential to their healing into virtual spaces.

Still, there's something about Black-D'Elia's slouching through the hours, one step at a time, that makes even the most over it straight-edger feel seen. You may be a teetotaler, someone who imbibes in the occasional cocktail or a person on the verge of joining the Temperence movement. However you define yourself, the massive interruption we're living through has forced all of us to start over in some small corner of our lives. That's all "Single Drunk Female" is, clear-eyed and writ large.

"Single Drunk Female" premieres with back-to-back episodes Thursday, Jan. 20 at 10 p.m. on Freeform and debuts the next day on Hulu. Subsequent episodes air Thursdays at 10:30 p.m.

Watch a trailer for it below, via YouTube.

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Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's TV critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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