'Florida Girls': TV Review
Laura Chinn's new Pop TV sitcom gets some laughs out of Florida caricatures, but also shows deeper potential.
Sorry, Florida. If you don't want to be the nation's go-to representative of the bizarre and trashy, you need to cut down on the frequency of incidents relating to bath salts, alligators or Holocaust-skeptical school principals. Until that day comes, elected officials may want to avert their eyes from Laura Chinn's new Pop comedy Florida Girls, a steady stream of raunchy and uncouth punchlines hewing close to familiar stereotypes involving trailer parks, slack-jawed perverts and disinterested novelty mermaids, each episode concluding ironically with the familiar peach logo indicating that it was filmed in Georgia.
Although Florida Girls isn't likely to win many fans on the Sunshine State tourism commission, the single-camera comedy may do better with audiences, since it's sometimes quite funny and features an ensemble brimming with potential. In the eight episodes sent to critics, I can already tell that once Chinn and the creative team run out of complacent punchlines and tinker a tiny bit with the volume on some of the performances, there's a solidly raucous female-forward comedy germinating here.
Set in Clearwater, Florida Girls is the story of childhood friends Shelby (Chinn), Erica (Patty Guggenheim), Kaitlin (Melanie Field) and Jayla (Laci Mosley), who met when they were 5, started drinking when they were 12 and dropped out of high school when they were 16. There used to be a fifth friend, but she got her GED and moved to Ohio, leaving the remaining quartet to ponder the purpose of a life largely spent picking up sad paychecks at a rundown bikini bar, getting drunk or high at questionably appropriate times of the day and trying to navigate through a world that wants to minimize, objectify or ridicule them.
Shelby dreams of emulating that departed friend, but she lacks the motivation to get her own GED and the will to get away from her clingy-but-loving mother (Kym Whitley). Jayla sees a husband as her path to the finer things in life, but her casual dining franchisee boyfriend (Chris Williams) is frustratingly commitment-evasive. Kaitlin is loud and proud and unapologetic, but is she covering up some insecurities? Sure! And Erica is a dim and amiable kleptomaniac, but is her placid, agreeable exterior masking a youth marked by struggle and trauma? Probably!
It's easy to get a sense of the series' aspirations from its creative pedigree. Chinn is a UCB veteran whose writing credits include The Mick, while frequent director Kat Coiro has directed episodes of The Mick and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Think of Florida Girls as The Mick without the contrast of wealth or Always Sunny if everybody was a McPoyle. This is a world of surprisingly polite flashers, scrawny meth addicts, predatory pawn shops, booty-rockin' BBQs, depressing waterparks that should only be experienced on ecstasy and frequent pixelated nudity that makes you thankful for those pixels. Nearly everybody in Florida Girls navigates in a perpetual stupor either from substance abuse or desultory employment, always on the verge of falling unconscious into dreams that rise as high as "health insurance," "an actual bed" or "a car that you can start without blowing into a Breathalyzer."
I referred to the show as The Mick without the economic contrast, but that show's entire thesis was that money can't make you classy and it can't make you happy. It's hard to imagine any of the characters in Florida Girls finding satisfaction greater than an $800 scratcher win, being able to afford brand-name Pop Tarts or the brief moment of triumph that comes from being reassured that you're probably not racist. And yet they're reasonably happy. The rhythms of the show require that every character introduction begin from a point of mockery — "Ha, her name is Crystal... Crystal Meth!" or "Ha! That hillbilly probably should not have a new machine gun!" — and then, if you're lucky, development moves to a place of empathy, which extends mostly just to the main quartet.
What's interesting is that after those initially facile laugh-lines, Florida Girls slowly gets to the other things it has on its mind and — Surprise! — it actually turns out to have more on its mind. Once you move past the first episode or two, the series expands from blue-collar minstrelry to touch on issues like biracial identity, religion, sexual harassment in the workplace and generational cycles of poverty. Sometimes it's sweet. Sometimes it's progressive. Sometimes it's even emotional. Throughout, Florida Girls keeps its main characters central and never lets them feel exploited or like disposable love interests for any of its transitory male figures.
The show gets a little more formally experimental as it goes along, as if doing a minimum of four or five increasingly stale "The girls all enter a room in slo-mo to a hip-hop beat" gags buys you one genuinely amusing one-crazy-night After Hours-style odyssey into the heart of Florida darkness.
The reality is that Florida Girls is still figuring out what it can get away with, which is a product of figuring out what its cast can get away with. The Mick knew with confidence that, in Kaitlin Olson, they had a lead capable of throwing everything into every single joke without ever cheapening the character. Florida Girls doesn't have a Kaitlin Olson, but each of its stars has moments. Chinn is as close as the show comes to an Everywoman and she anchors it with a likable goofiness. Guggenheim has a stealthy good deadpan — I'd love to watch Erica share scenes with Tati from Los Espookys — that lets her sneak in an unexpected darkness. There were times when I desperately wanted Mosley to tone down Jayla's outsized schtick, but then she has line-readings that are so gloriously off-kilter that they called to mind Catherine O'Hara on Schitt's Creek, another Pop comedy that improved after it grew beyond its small-town caricaturing. Field also is prone to shouting as her default, a loudness that works best when she can play opposite the similarly extreme Scott MacArthur, bringing more of that Mick energy.
MacArthur, Whitley, Ben Bladon and Constance Shulman make up the start of an ensemble that could be very good as the show becomes more grounded. There's a lot in these early episodes that makes me believe that once Florida Girls gets past low-budget Floridasploitation, it could be a funny place to spend a seasonal timeshare.
Cast: Laura Chinn, Laci Mosley, Melanie Field, Patty Guggenheim
Creator: Laura Chinn
Premieres: Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (Pop)