When Single Drunk Female’s mid-to-late 20-something Sam blows up her job and life in a drunken stupor, she’s forced to move home to the Boston area to live with her mother. There she reluctantly begins a journey of sobriety. The new Freeform series that stars Sofia Black-D’Elia as Sam and ’80s icon Ally Sheedy as her wine-swilling mother, Carol, is a comedy with loads of heart and plenty of drama that navigates sobriety with razor-sharp accuracy. And the series, inspired in part by out creator Simone Finch’s experience in recovery, gets queerer with each episode.
As the pilot episode unfolds, once Sam has fulfilled her community service for accidentally hitting her Buzzfeed-esque boss while on a binge, she returns home only to screw up again, narrowly escaping jail time. At that point she asks Olivia (Rebecca Henderson), a radio/podcasting personality with an impressive résumé who is married to a woman, to be her sponsor. As part of her recovery and to highlight the role of humility in getting sober, Sam takes a job at a local grocery store where her manager, Mindy (Jojo Brown), who is trans, is also in the program. But the queer visibility and characters don’t end there.
Some spoilers ahead.
The story establishes early on that Sam has an ex-boyfriend who’s now engaged to her former best friend. And she has a flirtation with James (Garrick Bernard), a guy in recovery she hooked up with during a blackout the year prior. But a few episodes in, Sam has a tryst with a cute woman at a sober gathering, and there’s no meal or discussion made out of it. She is refreshingly just who she is. It’s one piece of the series that appealed to Black-D’Elia.
“I’m so proud to play this character for so many reasons. I think that she feels like a real person to me,” Black-D’Elia tells The Advocate. “And that is one of the aspects of her that feels the most real. I think often writers shy away from a character’s sexuality or oversimplify them. Simone just wrote something that’s really truthful.”
“It’s also really sweet because she’s so scared to find love as a sober person. And it is not a gender-specific fear,” Black-D’Elia (The Mick, Skins, Gossip Girl) says. “This girl does not know how to connect without alcohol running through her system.”
The cast of Single Drunk Female
For the show’s creator, Finch, Sam’s sexual identity is personal.
“I’m bi and I thought it was really important that Sam should be bi because it shouldn’t be a big deal,” Finch says. Regarding the show’s LGBTQ+ visibility, executive producer Jenni Konner (Girls) says she’s proud to be a part of queer storytelling because “it’s a reflection of our world. We’re just trying to show a truthful version of what life looks like.”
But Sam’s sexuality isn’t all that feels authentic in Single Drunk Female. As the days of Sam’s sobriety add up and she collects more chips for working her Alcoholics Anonymous program, she’s like a newborn discovering the world around her. In those early weeks of her sobriety, it’s as though a magnifying glass is held up to everyone else’s alcohol-induced good time, which Finch says is very real.
“When you’re new, you notice everything,” she says. “You notice the bar being sticky. I think with Sam, what we’re showing is her coming to the realization that there’s alcohol around her all the time and that eventually, she’ll be able to kind of ignore it or at least not give it the credence or the attention that she used to give it.”
Watch The Advocate’s interview with Ally Sheedy and Sofia Black-D'Elia
A major challenge Sam faces is working through recovery while living under her mother’s roof as Carol winds down on the daily with a goblet or more of wine.
“I think there’s something with Carol and Sam to where Carol is fine maybe having one glass too many at night. Like she is the original wine mom, and she doesn’t need Sam’s judgment,” producer Daisy Gardner says. “She doesn’t want to change. She’s happy with who she is.”
Watch The Advocate’s interview with Simone Finch, Jenni Konner, and Daisy Gardner
Sheedy, who embodies the often-controlling but quirky mom, concurs.
“I [Carol] have a whole bunch of issues with Sam, and alcohol is just one of them,” Sheedy says.
“I don’t want her to come in here and tell me how to live my life. I want to drink wine, and I’m not going to be one of these people that has my fridge and can’t have it in there.”
“I am going to [have wine] but then if I drink in front of her, I’m going to assume she’s judging me even if she isn’t. [It’s] very complicated, very messy,” she says.
For Sheedy, who was an inspiration to many a teen tomboy in The Breakfast Club and who went on to play a lesbian in 1998’s High Art, Single Drunk Female’s authentic storytelling that is also deeply funny comes down to what’s on the page.
“The inclusivity of the cast, in the storylines, and the characters, and all that, I love that,” Sheedy says. “The writers’ room is very much like that. So that’s where a lot of that that you’re seeing is coming from the writing and who was in that writers’ room. It’s a totally different thing than some other shows, I think.”
New episodes of Single Drunk Female air Thursdays on Freeform and on Hulu the next day.