Notionally, the process of getting sober is one of the more punishing things a person can do, requiring self-reflection and consideration of the ways one’s behavior has harmed others. There’s raw material in this for drama, perhaps, but comedy of anything but the most mordant kind seems something less than intuitive. Which makes the brightly upbeat but clear-eyed “Single Drunk Female” a welcome addition to the TV landscape.
Created by Simone Finch and executive produced by Jenni Konner, “Single Drunk Female” begins mid-rampage: Sofia Black-D’Elia’s Samantha is, for what we grasp is closer to the thousandth time than the first, on a bender and determined to take down anyone in her sights. Having successfully torched her own writing career, Samantha returns to the home of her mother (Ally Sheedy) and enters a program in which she’s sponsored by a stern but fair journalist (Rebecca Henderson) — the sort of woman Samantha might, once, have hoped to be.
All of which sounds pretty heavy. And, indeed, these relationships, including their toughest aspects, are drawn with thought and care: Samantha’s mother, stuck in her own cycle of grief, is damagingly oblivious to her daughter’s pain. And Henderson’s sponsor character deals with anxieties of her own around potential parenthood, emphasizing the show’s subtle backbeat around relationships between mothers and children and their pitfalls.
But clever writing and Black-D’Elia’s charming, minor-key performance bring this show around to a sort of un-cheesy uplift. Black-D’Elia is a natural TV lead who is able to convey pain, angst or need with a backspin of optimism. What Samantha’s doing, after all, is a hopeful act, and an earnest one — placing a bet on her future. And, without unfitting irony, Black-D’Elia conveys both a wistful sense of potential and an unshowy weariness, indicating just how difficult it can be to keep up one’s hopes each day. Her nascent friendship with a fellow member of her recovery group (played by Garrick Bernard) teases new shades out of both characters, and both actors.
This show starts from a place of clarity about the challenges of the process it depicts. Samantha doesn’t really want to get sober at first, but she needs to; going through it means dealing with people who have her best interests at heart, which is as un-fun for her as it sounds. But that frank directness of approach allows for real wit to enter in, as well. This show has a real perspective on its central character, a young woman who’s spent her twenties hiding from her feelings. And beginning at the moment when she must finally confront them gives rise to thoughtful plotting, but also to the sort of wit and observation that’s only possible when one is finally being honest.
“Single Drunk Female” premieres Thursday, Jan. 20, at 10 p.m., and will be available to stream the next day on Hulu.