Photo: Mark Schafer/SHOWTIME
I hate the name of this show. When I heard the acronym SMILF for the first time, I imagined it would be tales of a hot single mom’s many dating exploits, sitcom style. Boy was I wrong! Instead, this show is an edgy intimate look at complex and compelling characters struggling to get through life with extreme but common personal problems that pile on without relief. It also provides a rare glimpse of the struggles single parents face while grappling with addiction and other painful emotional issues.
Set in South Boston, SMILF’s focus is Bridgette Bird, played by Frankie Shaw, who also wrote and directed the show loosely based on her life. The never-married heroine is likewise the mother of the beyond adorable multiracial Larry Bird, a toddler named in honor of the famed basketball legend. Early in the season, Bridgette appears to be a modern, sexually emancipated, less “together” Mary Tyler Moore. However, as the season progresses, Bridgette’s deep-seated inner struggles are revealed. Her sexual exploits and history are a contradiction to the “me too” generation and, at the same time, a case study. Bridgette struggles daily with trying to pay her bills, working at a job where she must pander to spoiled wealthy teenagers and an overindulged housewife. The show is very effective at showing how practically tricky it is for a single mother to do anything, whether it be work, have a romance of any kind, socialize with friends, or take care of herself.
“SMILF” explores deeply several other characters including Bridgette’s mother, Tutu, acted flawlessly by Rosie O’Donnell. O’Donnell deserves highest accolades for her endearing portrayal of an Irish American battle-ax. She comes across hard but over the course of a few episodes reveals a tortured inner vulnerability. Her main storyline involves an encounter with a lover from her past. It is poignant and tragic, serving as a reminder of the universal truth of love and heartbreak. The relationship between Bridgette and her mother is equally as recognizable. They are each struggling in their own way and execute a carefully choreographed dance of dependence and rebellion.
Another storyline follows Rafi (Miguel Gomez) who is Larry’s baby-Daddy and Nelson Rose, a.k.a. “Nipples Nelson” (Samara Weaving), his girlfriend, the most accomplished and well-adjusted character on the show. Rafi, who seems to be unemployed, is struggling with overcoming addiction. He spends much of his time attending recovery meetings and at the gym. Nelson, a hot Australian television sportscaster, known for her protruding nipples, on the other hand, discusses her success, which she attributes to her annual practice of creating vision boards, giving a nod to Bridgette and viewers that it is possible to envision and create a better existence.
Rafi, Nelson, and Bridgette unquestionably personify the bizarre Venn diagram of modern family life, which brings together split up co-parents and each one’s eclectic entourage. Nelson, who is consistently perky and positive-minded, in one episode even volunteers to wait in a long line in place of Bridgette, who has to go to work and Rafi, who has a meeting. With a huge smile, she genuinely explains how much she loves waiting on lines due to the unusual people one can meet in such situations.
The final character the show examines in depth is Eliza (Raven Goodwin), an overweight woman of color and Bridgette’s best friend, who she met at “food group,” a support group for those with eating disorders. Their friendship is a point of optimism in an otherwise sad view of life’s travails. They each demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice and lend tremendous support to one another. Eliza continually reaffirms Bridgette’s parenting ability and even gives her financial assistance by allowing Bridgette and Larry to move into her parentally subsidized apartment temporarily.
The plot winds its way through the season exploring the characters’ most profound emotional struggles. At the same time, “SMILF” focuses more specifically on a coming of age tale for Bridgette, realistically portraying a reckoning of her past and a shattering of her youthful aspirations in the same way it does for millions of single mothers just like her. Season One of “SMILF,” already renewed for a second season, can be viewed on Showtime.
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