×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Frankie Shaw Talks Showrunning, Storytelling and Season 2 of ‘SMILF’

Frankie Shaw ended 2017 on a high note. The first season finale of her auteur comedy “SMILF” aired on New Year’s Eve, and Shaw already has the date to return to the writers room for Season 2 booked (Feb. 5).

Last year marked quite a professional turnaround for a woman who never felt entirely comfortable in her pursuit of work as an actress, even as she began to grow her profile with roles in such series as USA’s “Mr. Robot,” Amazon’s “Good Girls Revolt” and ABC’s short-lived “Mixology.” But about three years ago, when she turned her focus to writing and directing, “it all came together,” Shaw told Variety.

“I love filmmaking,” Shaw says. “It’s where I am most at home. I wouldn’t necessarily say that about acting. Filmmaking is this instinctual feeling for me where all of a sudden everything is in Technicolor.”

SMILF” landed slots on many a year-end top TV shows list. Shaw has drawn praise for her unflinching portrayal of a struggling single mother in a roughneck Boston neighborhood, and her ability to mix drama with laugh-out-loud moments. The finale is perhaps the darkest of the season as Shaw’s character, Bridgette Bird, confronts a man she thinks is her father for sexually abusing her as a child.

Bridgette’s story of how she wound up broke and desperate with toddler Larry (yes, the character is a big basketball fan, hence her son’s name) in tow unfolds in a circuitous route over the first eight episodes. Viewers slowly come to realize that Bridgette has battled a binge-eating disorder, that Larry’s father is battling his own demons in a sober-living home, and that Bridgette was molested as a child.

Rosie O’Donnell has drawn rave reviews for her performance as Bridgette’s emotionally volatile mother, Colleen. Connie Britton plays a wealthy woman who hires Bridgette to tutor her spoiled children (a job Shaw herself did) and handle other unusual chores for the family.

“That’s what I love most about the experience of watching television and movies — where you are inserted into a world and you feel you are watching the characters in a deeper way,” Shaw says. “It’s hard because television has been so successful for so long in a (format) where you understand how someone gets from A to B to C. We had to think about how do you have a fulfilling story but not share everything all at once. We wanted [Bridgette’s world] to be as mysterious as the people that we know and love are.”

“SMILF” is loosely based on Shaw’s background (she grew up in Brookline, Mass.) but not every trauma that Bridgette faces is drawn from her own life. The biggest inspiration was her experiences as a “broke single mom” a decade ago while dealing with the heartbreak of audition after audition in Los Angeles.

“SMILF” began as Shaw’s effort to write a pilot script. A section of that pilot became a short film that gathered attention at Sundance in 2015. That set Shaw on a path to setting it up as a half-hour series at Showtime. She marvels in the trust that Showtime placed in her as a writer and director, given her then-limited experience. She counts “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway, “Mr. Robot” creator Sam Esmail and “Ghostbusters” helmer Paul Feig among those who guided her through the maze of learning to be a showrunner while doing the job.

The “SMILF” short wasn’t nearly as dark or emotional as Shaw would take the series. But Showtime never balked at her efforts to look at challenging issues such as gender discrimination, race, class, and sexual abuse.

“They’ve been so accepting,” she said. “They’ve encouraged me to go for it — make it deeper, darker and more raw.”

One thing Shaw didn’t want to do was make “SMILF” revolve entirely around a struggling actress. “I’m bored already with that,” she said. “I don’t want to see any more auditions.”

Shaw’s high-school love of basketball inspired the storyline of Bridgette taking a flier on trying (unsuccessfully) to join the WNBA — years after her triumphs on the court as a teenager. As Bridgette ultimately explains to her mother, she “just wants to find a purpose” in life, beyond motherhood.

Shaw’s vision for Season 2 involves further adventures for Bridgette in trying to find “her path” or, at minimum, a steady job. As Larry gets older she’ll have to deal with “the politics of day care,” Shaw says. The backstories of supporting characters including O’Donnell’s Colleen will be fleshed out more, Shaw promises.

Season 1 of “SMILF” was shot mostly in Los Angeles but for a few exteriors in Boston’s Southie district. Season 2 is likely to be shot on location in Boston, which should add more Beantown grit to the look and feel of the show.

Shaw is looking forward to getting back to work and going into production with more confidence and better skills than she had during “SMILF’s” maiden voyage.

“I’m always battling the inner critic in my head,” Shaw admits. “I have learned to face that pit in my stomach. Being a showrunner means you have to stand by your creative instincts and what you believe in. Sometimes that’s not easy.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Kate del castillo

    Kate del Castillo Signs Development Deal with Endemol Shine Boomdog (EXCLUSIVE)

    Endemol Shine Boomdog, the Mexico City-based division of Endemol Shine North America, has signed a development pact with actress Kate del Castillo and her fledgling Cholawood Productions company. Founded by Del Castillo and her partners, entertainment industry exec Carmen Cervantes and journalist Jessica Maldonado, Cholawood will be based out of Endemol Shine’s Los Angeles headquarters. [...]

  • Sharon White, chief executive of OfcomOxford

    British Broadcasters Must 'Redouble Efforts' on Diversity, Media Regulator Says

    With progress on diversity in the television workforce appearing to slow, British broadcasters must “redouble their efforts” to improve the situation across the industry, the U.K.’s media regulator said. In its third annual report into diversity and equal opportunities in the British TV sector, Ofcom said that in the past year there had been “no [...]

  • Tin Star

    Sky Studios Launches U.K. Innovation Hub in Northern England

    Sky Studios is launching a new Innovation Hub in Leeds, the northern English city that is also set to become the new headquarters of British pubcaster Channel 4. Sky Studios, the production arm of pay-TV giant Sky, said Wednesday that the new regional hub would focus on talent development, scripted partnerships and new content experiences, [...]

  • THE BACHELORETTE - "The Bachelorette: Season

    'The Bachelor': ABC Announces Leading Man For Season 24

    ABC has cast its next leading man for Season 24 of “The Bachelor.” Peter Weber has officially been named the upcoming “Bachelor.” The announcement was made Tuesday night on ABC’s “Bachelor In Paradise” reunion special. Weber appeared on Season 15 of “The Bachelorette” with Hannah Brown, ultimately becoming the second runner-up. He was a fan-favorite [...]

  • SEAL TEAM stars David Boreanaz (left),

    Showrunner John Glenn Exits 'SEAL Team' at CBS

    CBS is cutting ties with “SEAL Team” showrunner John Glenn, Variety has confirmed. Glenn joined the show for its second season, which premiered in October of last year. Christopher Chulack, Sarah Timberman and Carl Beverly also executive produced. “Regarding ‘SEAL Team,’ I am proud of the work we did – and greatly enjoyed having the chance to [...]

  • NBC Campaign Aims to Reclaim Brand

    NBC Launches Campaign to Reclaim Brand Ownership of Hit Comedies (EXCLUSIVE)

    NBC is preparing a new salvo in the streaming-era TV branding wars. As audiences increasingly watch shows like “The Good Place” and “Superstore” on other platforms, the Peacock network has launched a new campaign to remind them that these are, first and foremost, NBC shows. And they’re even enlisting a real-life peacock to convey the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content