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TV Review: SMILF (Season 1, Episode 3)

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Sex sells. That’s something that becomes abundantly clear for Bridgette in Half A Sheet Cake & A Blue Raspbery Slushie, after her struggle to pay the rent opens her mind to new career paths.

Bridgette’s getting by on $28 paychecks for veterans’ mental health ads, a job that requires her to wear silicon bra inserts and cry sexily into the camera whilst showering. She’s not the only one who finds sex interfering with her work; Rafi’s girlfriend Nelson can’t get a question answered because the athletes are too busy flirting with her.

When even mainstream, well paid jobs like Nelson’s are dependent on sex appeal, sex work doesn’t seem too far off for Bridgette. After her landlord demands she pays her rent, Bridgette goes to a temp agency that can only offer her a job that’s two buses away for $11 an hour. It’s pretty uninspiring stuff.

Instead of taking the temp job, Bridgette imagines what it would be like to be a prostitute, picturing herself atop golden thrones with a handsome client. The plan becomes more appealing after meeting up with Eliza, her friend from the food recovery group.

Eliza can earn $700 from an eight-hour shift as a cam girl, and all she has to do is eat. Their attempt to find Bridgette a similar fetish to serve fails after she struggles to pop balloons with her body, but the sex work idea sticks with her.

SMILF has done a good job until this point of showing the exploitative side of any low-paid work, but it seems to save a more intense ire for sex work. When Eliza admiringly says “I am the product”, Shaw’s distaste is clear; even for those who are making good money from sex work, Shaw evidently sees something universally harmful in the practice.

This wholly negative view of sex work is one that some in the audience, including this reviewer, will disagree with. A nuanced discussion of sex workers’ rights and the virtues of enshrining them in law may not be achievable in a half-hour comedy. Instead, SMILF focuses on one person’s experience of the trade, showing a reality but not the only reality.

Despite my own ideological differences with Shaw, I found the scene with Bridgette’s Craigslist client incredibly powerful. Inspired by a real event from Shaw’s life, Bridgette answers a stranger’s request for dinner, but immediately tries to back out. The stranger offers her $300 just to see her face, and she accepts.

Bridgette’s eventually convinced to drink soda with George the Craigslist stranger for another $300, and they have a genuinely heart-warming conversation. George’s daughter goes to Bridgette’s high school, and she loves basketball like she does.

This parallel between Bridgette and George’s daughter makes what happens next all the more upsetting. Even as he encourages Bridgette to try out for Boston’s new WNBA team, George starts to touch Bridgette without her consent. Shocked, and clearly remembering her own sexually abusive father, Bridgette punches him.

Although the scene is clearly upsetting, Bridgette’s encounter with George ends in a strangely upbeat way. With the knowledge that anyone can try to join Boston’s WNBA team, she takes George’s money and buys herself a basketball, as well as an iPad for Larry.

Half A Sheet Cake & A Blue Raspberry Slushie is a cohesive episode overall and feels more tightly focused than the series pilot. Unlike last week’s instalment, the episode does feel short on laughs, perhaps due to the serious nature of the subject matter.

A better balance of humour and seriousness would really benefit the show. When SMILF is delivering such excellent dramatic scenes, it’s hard to really consider that a flaw. However, SMILF will sink or swim on the strength of its comedy- let’s hope to see more of it next week.

SMILF airs on Sky Atlantic every Wednesday at 10.00pm. 

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