Film & Television

‘Single Drunk Female’

This past year, Harvard Medical School published an alarming story on “Women, alcohol, and COVID-19.”

“Excessive alcohol use is a common response to coping with stress. Alcohol use increased following the September 11th terrorist attacks and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The COVID-19 pandemic is following this same path. However, this pandemic is different in its scope and duration. COVID-19 is associated with both negative health and economic impacts, as well as grief, loss, and prolonged stress and uncertainty.”

COVID has disproportionately affected women, in terms of both their professional and personal lives, and studies report that many women are turning to alcohol to help them cope. Harvard cites research by the RAND Corporation that found that women have increased their heavy drinking days during the pandemic by 41%. Another study, published in Addictive Behaviors, found that while both men and women experienced psychological stress related to COVID-19, this resulted in increased drinking for women, but not men.

On HBO’s recent Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That, Miranda Hobbes, wife, mother, attorney, graduate student, blames her excessive drinking on COVID. “I am drinking too much, yes,” she admits to Carrie. “We all were in the pandemic, and . . . I guess I just kept going.” The writers were on the right track by including alcohol use and dependency as a very real and disturbing current phenomenon for women. But they deflected attention from two aspects of it. One, alcohol use for women has been increasing for years, long before any of us started wearing masks or social distancing. Harvard reports that between 2001 and 2013, there was a 16% increase in women drinking, a 58% increase in women heavily drinking, and an 84% increase in women’s alcohol disorder. And two, Miranda, realizing that she’s ordered a self-help book from Amazon, Quit Like a Woman during an alcohol-induced blackout, proceeds to pour multiple bottles of booze down the kitchen sink, and switches to alcohol-free rosé. Problem solved.

In real life, quitting ain’t that easy.

Simone Finch, creator of the new dramedy series Single Drunk Female can attest to this. In a recent interview with HuffPost, she explains, “I started drinking at 15, and that’s not even the youngest. There are people that started much earlier than that. And I had time to really develop my alcoholism.”

Finch, who has previously written for The Connors, and worked on Roseanne, Madam Secretary, and Homeland, spent more than a decade struggling with alcoholism and nearly a decade developing Single Drunk Female. Estimating that she rewrote the pilot between 100 and 200 times, she attributes her perseverance to Alcoholics Anonymous. “Something in A.A. they talk about is finishing things, and I didn’t finish a lot of things when I came in. This script is one of those things that I just kept going at. I joke with people [that] it’s a script that wouldn’t die. People kept loving it, and loving it, and loving it. It wouldn’t sell, it wouldn’t sell, it wouldn’t sell it. And then, it sold. So, the only thing I did right is I didn’t give up.”

Clearly autobiographical but also both amusing and touching, Single Drunk Female tells the story of Samantha Fink (Sofia Black-D’Elia), a 20-something journalist who is smart and funny and addicted to alcohol. We meet her on what would be called her rock-bottom day. Stumbling through the office, late for a meeting, and drinking vodka from a water bottle, she’s confronted by her boss, then fired by her boss, then arrested for assaulting that boss with a desk phone. In what her probation officer, Gail (Madison Shepard) deems “the sweetest deal I ever heard of,” she’s sentenced to rehab, followed by community service and AA. With no job, no money, and no other choice, she’s forced to move back home, where her mother, Carol (former 1980s brat-packer Ally Sheedy) is jump-starting her life after the death of Sam’s father. The friction is intense and real, and it is constant.

Writing from a very personal place, and supported by executive producers, including Jennifer Konner (Girls), Daisy Gardner (Modern Family), and Leslye Headland (Sleeping with Other People), as well as the network Freeform, Finch addresses aspects of alcohol abuse that we rarely see onscreen. From the temptations and anxiety that accompany quitting, to the impatience with the process and a desperate desire to fix everything and everybody, to be granted some sort of cosmic “do over” because this isn’t who you are and this can’t be happening to you. Right?

Relationships become complicated when you stop drinking. Sam’s friend Felicia (Lily Mae Harrington) worries that she’s nothing more to Sam than a “drinking buddy.” And, indeed, it’s a night at their favorite bar together that undoes Sam’s entire month in rehab. Sam’s ex-best friend Brit (Sasha Compère) is about to marry Sam’s ex-boyfriend Joel (Charlie Hall), and while Sam struggles with the idea, she’s also desperate to make amends for some nasty alcohol-fueled retaliatory behavior on her part. A fellow A.A. member, the charming James (Garrick Bernard), reminds Sam that they once slept together, twice, in a public restroom. And Mindy (Jojo Boss), her new boss at Giovanni’s Market, finds Sam asleep behind the cereal boxes on a bottom shelf.

These scenes and many others expertly blend comedy and drama, one reason it was challenging to find an actor to play Sam. As Finch remembers, “Samantha was the hardest one to cast. We needed someone who was funny, who was tragic, who you were hopeful for, who you were rooting for — at the same time. I think those things are so hard to find in one actress. And honestly, we auditioned a lot of actresses. The day we found Sofia, she was our first person of the day. She auditioned and we all just looked at each other and were like, ‘Hey, that’s it. Is that it?’ And we were like, ‘That’s it.’” The show’s young star (who, at 31, has been acting for more than two-thirds of her life) does fine work with a role that’s always believable but not always entirely likeable.

Sam’s mother, Carol, isn’t always likeable either. She is obsessed with her “Spiritual Book Club” and worries what her fellow members will think of the appetizers she’s prepared — not to mention that her daughter is a convicted felon. Hoping perhaps for a more stable role model, Sam turns to her A.A. sponsor, Olivia (Rebecca Henderson), who repeats that Sam’s only job is this: to not drink right now

And for so many women, that’s a lot harder than And Just Like Thats Miranda Hobbes would lead you to believe. 

New weekly episodes of Single Drunk Female run on Freeform, Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. All episodes to date are streaming on Hulu.


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