Samantha Fink (Sofia Black-D'Elia) is about to experience a major reality check. When the twentysomething loses her job in New York City because of her drinking, she's forced to reevaluate her life from the vantage point of her childhood home, where her complicated relationship with her mother (Ally Sheedy) awaits.
Single Drunk Female follows Samantha on her sobriety journey, quite literally counting the days since her last drink as she attempts to get her life back on track. The new series comes from showrunner Simone Finch (Roseanne, The Conners), whose own life experience heavily influenced the story.
EW spoke with Finch about her journey to get the show made.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It sounds like this is something you've been working on for a while at this point, right? How far back does this go?
SIMONE FINCH: Yeah. So I got my first job working for a showrunner in 2012 on Craigslist, which was shocking then and it's shocking now. And she gave me the assignment. She said, "You have to write if you're going to have this job." Because I wasn't writing, I was drinking, obviously. And so I wrote this half-hour piece of garbage, but the character's name was Samantha. And so that's where it started, is from this pile of crap. And then I made it an hour because I got really inspired by Orange is the New Black and Shameless. I wanted that tone. It's really funny because a couple reviews have picked up on the fact that there seems to not be enough time in this story and I'm like, "Oh, they can feel that it was an hour." Then I just started rewriting it. I used to work with Norm Macdonald on Roseanne and The Conners, and he read a draft and he actually gave me some of the best notes anyone has ever given me. And it was after I did the draft with his notes that Freeform bought it. So I thanked him. Yeah, this story's been through many iterations and many, many drafts.
You mentioned when you first wrote it, you were drinking.
So how did the story evolve as you got sober? Or did it?
Originally, she was a hot mess. And remember when hot mess was the thing? There were a lot of hot messes going around. And then I put it down for a while. I got sober. And then my writing mentor, who was in AA, he actually read the draft and said, "There's something here. You need to rewrite this, but it's not what it is yet." I didn't understand what he meant. And then I looked at it and I was like, "Oh, she's an alcoholic because I'm an alcoholic." So I rewrote it. He helped me a lot getting the draft into manageable shape where we could start taking it out. And we did. For about two years, we tried doing a lot of things and it didn't work. But yeah, I think, I wasn't in acceptance of my alcoholism and my writing reflected that. And all the art that I loved was alcoholic and I didn't even know that at the time either. So once I got sober, I was able to finish it.
Freeform/Elizabeth Sisson Sofia Black-D'Elia on 'Single Drunk Female'
We've certainly seen alcoholism portrayed in pop culture before, but what I love about this story is the specificity. Each episode says, to the day, where we're at in Samantha's journey with sobriety. What made you want to take that super specific approach?
I think people sometimes in stories about addiction can be afraid of specificity because they think that it'll scare people away. And I actually think what we've done is we've included people along her journey. Not that you're getting sober with her, but you're seeing what she's going through as she's going through it and you see a timeline. I had journals when I got sober, especially in the early days. And I really used those journals to help mold the season a little bit in terms of how she was feeling and what she was doing. Rereading those journals can be really tough, but I'm glad I had those. When you're newly sober, everything is new, everything is exciting or horrible in some ways. Because being new is really hard. Staying sober is easier than getting sober.
It's one thing to write a story that's so personal, but what was the experience of watching it play out?
It's funny. I read that Sofia [Black-D'Elia] was like, "I was acting out someone who was 10 feet away," and I never thought about her experience with that. But it was, especially with some of the mom stuff and the dad stuff, it was really hard. My mom and I aren't in that place anymore and I'm really grateful for that. But we've had our ups and downs and she said, "All the good stuff is true and all the bad stuff is Ally Sheedy." [Laughs] You can print that. But it was hard. I cried on set a couple times. People on set knew when something was really affecting me and they were really kind and Sofia was really wonderful. I would do it again, but there were days where I was like, "Oh, this is what they're talking about when you put your heart on the page." It feels real.
Speaking of Sofia, what was the casting process like for you? Was it difficult to find Samantha?
I was probably harder on people than I meant to be. And then Sofia showed up. And Sofia and I come from similar backgrounds. We just got each other right away. We're simpatico. I don't have to give her a note because she already knows what the note is. She's that kind of actor and it took a while to find her. And then the second that we did, that was it. But we saw a lot of Samanthas. And I was like, "Am I terrible at writing? Should I give up? Should I quit?" But yeah. It all turned out great. I can't speak highly enough of her. She's just wonderful.
The show is also hilarious and I'm curious, is it easy for you to find humor in those moments?
I mean, at the time when I danced to Shakira in a bar, I thought it was hilarious, but it was actually really tragic. But then when I put it in the show, I was like, "Oh, this is hilarious. This is so funny." When there's certain life experiences that she goes through, at the time, I was like, "This is the worst thing I've ever been through." And then looking back on it now as a sober woman who's 35, I can find the humor. I've learned in AA not to take myself so seriously, and I think that's where the humor comes from. I think that sobriety is really serious and staying sober is of the utmost importance for me and many others. But laughing at ourselves is great medicine.
I feel like so often, when we see alcoholism portrayed in films and TV, the person struggling is older. Were you at all worried about how a young alcoholic would be received?
No, I mean, this is just my experience. I think there's a lot of young people getting sober. Especially women. There's some research I did, and women are starting to out drink men, which is really scary. I just knew that this is something that's happening. I've seen it. A lot of the stories about addiction are men, too. And I think it's really important to show that women can have addiction just the same as men. I was more worried about her not being likable than her being a young alcoholic.
I did wonder about the likability factor and if that concerned you, because it particularly seems to apply to female characters. People want them to be likable.
Yeah. It definitely was discussed and there have been many drafts of this. Some drafts she was a little bitier. I still think she has a bite and I think Sofia brings it to the table as well. But I think [producer] Jenni Konner really helped me make her more vulnerable. Jenni said that I didn't forgive my former drunk self. She was right. And I had to learn how to do that with this piece, in a way. So this show has made me go to therapy for more than one reason, but in a good way. I love therapy.
The last thing I'll ask is, is this a story you'd be interested in continuing in additional seasons if given the chance?
I think we could go into greater depth, yeah. In every season 1, you learn things. And I think not having your story be always about relapsing is really important. My goal is to show sobriety. And to me, sobriety is so much more interesting than the loop of addiction. I don't care about the loop of addiction. I lived it for 12 years. I don't need to do it on the page again. That's my opinion. So, yeah.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Single Drunk Female premieres at 10 p.m. ET/PT Thursday, Jan. 20 on Freeform.