I spent my first year of sobriety in a pandemic. My first AA meetings were on Zoom, and there was no coffee with new friends after the meetings – just ten more minutes of awkward Zoom tiles talking over each other at the end of every hour. So I’ll be honest, I’m a little jealous of Sam, the lead of Freeform’s new show Single Drunk Female, and her recovery experience. Yes, she has to go to rehab because she punches her boss in the face while drinking at work, and her life is in shambles, but she also goes to in-person meetings, makes new friends, and even zips up to New York City for a one-day trip after six months spent back in her hometown trying to stay sober.
That’s not to say that Single Drunk Female is in any way glamorizing Sam’s life, either before or after getting sober. Rather, the show unflinchingly commits to sharing, pretty honestly, the ups and downs of both lives. We see Sam have fun drunk sex in the bathroom, and we see her realize that she’s not been good at relationships for years. We see her awkwardly attempt to kiss a friend from AA and be rejected, and we see her have a fun hook-up with a girl she meets at a sober dance party.
The show is bitingly honest and bitingly funny. The deadpan humor of Sam (played with perfect precision by Sofia Black-D’Elia), and especially the other sober people around her, really hits home for me as similar to the kind that often shows up in AA meetings where stories about our worst moments are traded as often as hellos, and shame goes out of the window at the moment you hear yourself say “hi, I’m blank and I’m an alcoholic.”
Even when Sam is at her worst (and she is, her absolute worst self when she enters the program, just like I was), those around her are so funny and loving and care about her so deeply, that you can’t help but care for her too. Her self-centered worldview could be off-putting, but it works in this ensemble. If I hadn’t had the support of my friends during my early days of recovery, I don’t know that I would have survived it. The show has captured, almost in a meta way, that exact experience, just as it managed to make me aware of every single time another character on the show was drinking, just like I used to be when I finally quit and suddenly felt like alcohol was everywhere.
The series also uncannily captures the experience of going to meetings, which I know now that I’ve been able to go to a few (though wearing a mask, and far less-cute clothes than Sam does, sadly). The awkwardness of choosing where to sit, the weird intensity of someone saying hello to you at the door, and the feeling that everyone knows each other already but is also staring at you specifically – those all come after the panic and distress of attending your first meeting, which is where most TV shows tend to stop. Sam’s first meeting is especially awkward, as she runs into James, a guy she hooked up with drunkenly. I loved watching them step toward and away from each other over the course of the first season (though frustratingly, it does end in one of my least favorite recovery tropes) – they’re drawn to each other, but they’re acutely aware that what they have historically been drawn toward isn’t always healthy for them.
The series introduces Sam’s friends from before and after her sobriety with equal importance in her life, and they all have their own fully-realized world outside of Sam, too. There’s her ex-best friend, Brit, who is getting married to Sam’s ex-boyfriend, but clearly misses Sam (I could have done with fewer of the scenes about Brit’s relationship with Sam’s ex, who is exceedingly boring, but a scene where Brit does drugs is a highlight of the season). There’s her former drinking buddy, calling Sam out for not trying hard enough in their friendship. There’s her new sobriety family, including her (gay!) sponsor, played by Rebecca Henderson (who also happens to be executive producer Leslye Headland’s irl wife, and whose wife on the show is truly the most irritating character I can imagine), and Mindy, her delightfully acerbic sobriety sister and manager at the grocery store (if there is anything right in this world, Jojo Brown will soon be a star).
The real standout relationship of the series is that of Sam and her mom Carol, played by Ally Sheedy. Her journey with Sam’s sobriety, evolving from her reluctance to call alcoholism a disease after losing Sam’s dad to a physical illness into immense gratitude that Sam is getting healthier, feels so well-earned and authentic. Equal parts overbearing and distant, and often clumsy, Carol wants what’s best for her daughter and doesn’t always know how to show it. Sheedy shines in literally every scene, nailing some of the best joke deliveries of the show, and their moments together left me teary-eyed more than once.
Perhaps the coolest thing about this show is that it doesn’t feel like “a show about an alcoholic.wp_postsIt takes Sam’s problems seriously, but it takes everyone else’s seriously too. The show centers on an alcoholic navigating her recovery, but it also speaks to an attitude that seems prevalent coming on two years of the pandemic, one that hits right after the New Year when resolutions abound: the importance of examining what works in your life, and pursuing those things wholeheartedly. This is a show about starting fresh, not just about drinking or not drinking.
That might seem a little too sweet or cliche for some people, and sometimes the show can be just that. But cliches become cliches for a reason, and more than anything, Sam feels like a woman I could meet (and desperately hope to befriend) in a meeting, and I found myself rooting for her – and the show – the way I would any other newfound friend forged over the cliched bad coffee and (often absurdly funny) alcoholic experiences we share.