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TV Review: SMILF (Season 1, Episode 1)

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With a promising debut episode, SMILF combines a single mother’s sexual dysfunction with class commentary in A Box of Dunkies and Two Squirts of Maple Syrup.

SMILF is a semi-autobiographical comedy from Frankie Shaw, adapted from the award-winning short film of the same name she took to Sundance in 2014. Shaw plays Bridgette Bird, a single mother from South Boston who’s trying to make ends meet whilst still maintaining her personal life.

In A Box of Dunkies and Two Squirts of Maple Syrup, the “Single Mother I’d Like To Fuck” is going through a serious dry spell. Whilst she’s on good terms with the father of her son Larry (who, by the way, is played by the cutest child actor I’ve ever seen), Bridgette shoulders much of the burden of raising him.

Meanwhile, ‘Rafi the Relapser’ is able to meet as many women as he likes, including new girlfriend Nelson Rose. Bridgette’s territorial instinct to protect her son is familiar comic ground; what’s interesting is how genuinely respectful Bridgette and Rafi’s friendship seems to be. In its opening episode, SMILF has taken the conventions of TV comedy and subverted them just enough to be interesting.

SMILF’s much maligned title has put many viewers off the series; the appellation projects an image of crude, sexual humour, which is at least partially representative of SMILF’s tone. The first episode frankly explores sexual topics, like Bridgette’s masturbation habits and her fear that childbirth has, er, “blown out” her vagina.

Yet the beauty of SMILF’s title is that it summarises the feel of the series, at least so far. The show takes the word MILF with all its sordid connotations, and brings in the reality of a single mother’s life. SMILF promises subversive humour and delivers, for the most part, whilst also revelling in its socially conscious heart.

In the first episode, both the opening basketball montage and Bridgette’s disastrous one-night stand take typical sexual scenarios and turn them on their heads. The trappings of her status as a working class single mother stop Bridgette getting laid twice, and introduce the potential for more complex dark comedy in future episodes.

Bridgette’s a charming but deeply flawed heroine, particularly when it comes to her son. It’s very hard to like her when she leaves Larry alone in her apartment to buy food, and tries to have sex with a former student with her son lying next to her. Nevertheless, Bridgette’s heartfelt apology to Larry and their affectionate scenes together are so endearing that you find yourself rooting for her.

Like a lot of modern comedies, A Box of Dunkies and Two Squirts of Maple Syrup is better when it’s not funny. That’s not to say SMILF is devoid of laughs, far from it (the scene where Bridgette tries to climax without dropping her laptop is a notable highlight). But so far, SMILF is most interesting when it takes itself seriously.

By the episode’s end, any illusion that SMILF is a frivolous sexual farce has been blown out the water. Whilst auditioning for an army PSA, Bridgette mentions offhand that her father sexually abused her as a child. This closing bombshell is a pretty clear indication that SMILF has a lot more to reveal about itself in coming episodes.

A Box of Dunkies and Two Squirts of Maple Syrup is rarely laugh-out-loud funny. Yet the SMILF debut is consistently amusing, and complex enough to be worth watching in the future. There’s a lot more to learn about Bridgette Bird, and I for one am looking forward to it.

SMILF airs on Sky Atlantic every Wednesday at 10.00pm. 

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