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[This story contains major spoilers for Single Drunk Female season 2.]
In the second season of Single Drunk Female, creator Simone Finch wanted to expand beyond Sam’s (Sofia Black-D’Elia) journey with physical sobriety and explore what comes next: emotional sobriety. “We wanted to talk more about what happens when you’re sober and you think that you have everything figured out,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter.
The result is something equally as messy for Sam as season one, just in some compelling (and cringey) new ways. And as audiences see, her friends and family are not immune to season two’s mess. As a result, the return of Freeform’s breakout hit — which debuted on April 12 and is airing weekly on the cabler (though the entirety of the season is already available on Hulu) — watches more in its second go like an ensemble show, where more screen time translates to more complication but also more depth.
Within that choice, the writers remind viewers that Sam’s recovery journey is in many ways a universal story, and one that can resemble the ups-and-downs, successes and failures of anyone who cares about her. “It is just about being human,” Finch says of Single Drunk Female‘s various leading and supporting character storylines this season. “But I think regular human stuff for a normie, let’s say, is one thing. Human stuff for an alcoholic is a whole other ballpark.”
Making that distinction — between the collective and singular experiences of these characters — is something Finch, who frequently writes plot points based on her own experiences, and the show’s writing team are exceptionally good at. And it’s part of what makes Single Drunk Female a dramatically nuanced and satisfying exploration of addiction disorders — and life.
For season two, Finch spoke with The Hollywood Reporter and unpacked some of the season’s biggest moments and storylines, the significance of those new characters and answered why this second set of episodes just couldn’t be like the first.
There are definitely differences between seasons one and two when it comes to what Sam is dealing with around her recovery. What new ground did you want to tread with her this season?
The first season is physical sobriety. The second season is emotional sobriety. We wanted to talk more about what happens when you’re sober and you think that you have everything figured out. And when you stop going to meetings, it’s like you stop taking your medication, which I have done continually in the past. I’m not the only sober person that’s had this experience where you’re like, “I’m feeling great. I don’t need those meetings anymore.” It’s a popular thing. Also, you get sober and suddenly you’re ready to have the first relationship. You’re ready to have real friendships, you’re ready to have a real job. She says that in the premiere, which I call the second pilot. We wanted to go into that because getting sober is great, but you also get a life as well, which is amazing. A life that they say is beyond your wildest dreams, which for me has definitely been the case.
Some of the ensemble cast got heftier storylines that don’t revolve entirely around their relationship to Sam, while other characters take a step back this season. Why did you choose to elevate or focus in on some of these characters for season two?
This is a really good question. I hope I can do it justice. I think that especially with James (Garrick Bernard) — because he relapsed obviously in the finale of season one — we wanted to show what going in and out is like. I feel like a lot of pop culture is, you’re either sober or you’re in active addiction. I was in and out the first six months of my recovery. So that’s one of the things we wanted to show. With Brit (Sasha Compère), we wanted to show how someone who’s always done everything right deals with divorce. I myself had a quickie divorce, so that comes from my experience. Then with Felicia (Lily Mae Harrington), we wanted to talk about how she is as a mom — and she can’t share that with Sam. She can share that with Carol (Ally Sheedy). Which is why we have that great scene in the eighth episode. I think Charlie Hall also did a fantastic job as Joel and I think we just elevated him because he’s so funny and so good, and also because we kind of had to show what [Joel and Brit] had before. If you show the end of a relationship, you have to hint at the beginning, too.
The divorce between them is difficult but it never feels nasty or mean — just emotionally complicated. It eventually works out pretty positively, which is rare to see on TV. Why did you end their relationship that way?
This is from my experience. My ex-husband and I are much better as friends. We’re great friends today. We weren’t great partners. I also love that they acknowledge to each other that they both screwed up, whereas neither was willing to acknowledge that [before]. They were blaming the other person. I think that’s a really hard thing to do, but I also think that it’s possible, and I guess I know it from my own life. So that’s where a lot of that came from. But also, it’s growth for both of those characters, especially Brit, who never acknowledged when she did anything wrong ever. She’s always perfect. She’s avoidant. And she’s an al-anon. Her best friend is an alcoholic and one of those things about being an al-anon is, you’re always, like, I’m perfect. Everyone else is the problem. So I think we want to just show the opposite of that, too. That there’s growth in that area as well.
They sort of drew this out and there’s even a moment at Brit’s job at the hospital where Joel seemingly implies that maybe they don’t want to end things. Why did you include that and are they really over-over?
I think a part of that is status, to be honest. Because he is this hunky guy and she is this brilliant doctor. A part of it is giving up the ideal versus the reality. It’s also, again, just to show that there is love there. I don’t know about the finality and we haven’t really talked season three yet, but that’s a good question. I don’t know the answer to that.
You mentioned James, who gets a lot of time this season on his own. Why did you choose to give him more of an interior life and how did that help you explore the recovery process from a different perspective than Sam’s?
I think a lot of people of color that are portrayed as addicts on television are used as tropes and we didn’t want to do that with James, especially. So I think the interiority lends to that. I think a lot of the times we’re introduced to a person of color, they have an addiction and then they die — and that’s it. I think the other part of it is, I like showing that people get sober in all kinds of ways and we find our higher power in different kinds of ways, which is where the season is going. So he found his higher power at church and where he grew up, and he never thought he would find it there. And we’re showing that because again, religion isn’t all bad, right? That can work for some people.
The higher power discussion is a recurring one this season. Sam and James land in two different places on this with her seemingly finding it in that very final moment of the finale. Can you expand on what Sam’s higher power is, but also how James’ ultimately helped him?
Sam’s higher power is creativity, maybe more specifically writing. She got all those journals in the first episode. So the true story that comes from my life is, I got journals every birthday my whole life. When I was drinking, I was like, I don’t understand what this is. Then I got sober and was like, “Oh, I guess my higher power was trying to tell me something.” Because, again, it was repeated for years — for years — and I was like, this is crazy. When I write, honestly — how do I put this — it’s not a fight anymore. It’s this beautiful thing that I kind of have no control over. That’s how I see it. I hope I don’t sound too hoity-toity. (Laughs.) Then with James, he was running away from his family. He didn’t know who he was on some level. I also think when we get sober we discover who we are. We unpeel the onion. That’s what they call it in AA. He kind of found himself in that way as well. That you didn’t have to be running. Again, it was always there when he was ready to access it.
Sam eventually finds that higher power, but it’s preceded by an entire season of her trying to grapple with getting a new sponsor. She ends up with somebody she isn’t quite sure she wants because it wasn’t an active choice. Why did you want to put Sam through that ringer?
So Sam had Olivia, which was great, but she relied on Olivia (Rebecca Henderson), I think, too much. Olivia kept saying, “I’m a failable being,” and kept saying that you need something else to pull you through. Once Olivia left, Sam, in a very alcoholic fashion, was like, “You know what? My sponsor left me. I’m going to be a victim and I’m not going to get another sponsor. You know what? I’m going to sponsor myself.” That’s what they call it when you don’t get another sponsor, and you just go about your life and you’re a total shit show. So Sam sponsors herself for most of the season, and then finally at the very end when she’s like, “That’s the closest I’ve come to drinking,” that’s when Olivia is like, this is really scary and you need to find another sponsor. Busy [Philipps] came about because she knows [writer and executive producer] Jenni Konner and we also wanted a different flavor for the sponsor. We wanted the opposite of Olivia because we wanted to show, too, that every kind of person can get sober. Even a person like Darby (Philipps). Darby seems like she’s high all the time, but she’s just high on life. (Laughs.) She’s got a lot of energy and there are a lot of people like that. They say everyone in the bar, that’s who’s in an AA meeting.
Sam struggles to manage her anxiety and impulsive behavior, and she snowballs until she explodes — something you capture well metaphorically and literally through her interactions with Nathaniel (Jon Glaser). Other characters are similarly struggling and it becomes this really great illustration of the larger human experience. But how did you want to distinguish between dealing with multiple challenges in recovery versus the non-recovery experience of spinning out?
I think they’re kind of the same thing in the sense that it’s either my will or God’s will. It’s a saying — and I just keep saying sayings, but they work — which is “life on life’s terms.” We get sober, but guess what? We can’t live life in the meeting rooms. We have to go outside. We have to interact with people. We have to go to work. We have to deal with our families. And you’re right, though. It’s just about being human. But I think regular human stuff for a normie, let’s say, is one thing. But human stuff for an alcoholic is a whole other ballpark. Because we can make a mountain out of a molehill, but also we can — you said it, she snowballed until it exploded. I don’t know if normal people do that as much in my experience, you know? Or maybe what I’m trying to say is it snowballs and for us that snowball could turn into us drinking and relapsing. We’re always close on some level to a drink if a) we’re not taking care of our recovery and b) there’s all these other stressors on top of things. That’s when things get scary and that’s what happens to Sam this season.
Part of Sam’s anxiety stems from the relationship turn between her and Carol. James has a parallel journey with his own mom. Both relationships end at a relief point, but not one where things are fully mended. Can you talk about the significance of ending on that note?
I think James just wanted his mother to acknowledge that he is an alcoholic. That this is a part of my life, this is something I’m dealing with and I don’t want you to be in denial about it. That’s huge. But with Sam, they’re always going to have conflict because Carol has issues with boundaries and Sam’s an alcoholic. So I like that we end on these moments. But yeah, they’re tenuous. They’re stalemates in some ways. And I think that’s true for dealing with an addict, to be honest. I think that’s a normal place to be. I’m going to have nine years on Saturday but that’s not guaranteed. I think it’s hard. This season really made me think about what it’s like to be in the shoes of the person outside the addict, and what that means and how hard that is on some level. That has to cause some trepidation.
Carol’s journey is fraught this season, but a lot of that seemed to be prompted by her choices — including the choice to pick up Sam’s journals and read them. What was fueling her?
Carol really hit an al-anon bottom, and when you’re addicted to people and you’re addicted to not respecting their boundaries and not having any boundaries of your own. I had a sponsor when I first came in who said that’s worse than being addicted to alcohol. And on some level, I believe that. You can just put down the bottle, but putting down people is a lot harder. So yeah, she had an al-anon bomb this season and I think it was a long time coming. Just because somebody gets over it doesn’t mean that it changes everything in their lives. Also, I read a partner’s stuff. This is where this came from. And when I did it, I was searching for something. I wanted answers. And I feel like in the same way, Sam’s getting her own life and she’s been sober a year and a half and she’s dating this guy and Carol’s like, “I just want to understand why I feel neglected on some level.” So in a really messed up way, she was trying to bring her daughter back and in doing so, she actually pushed her daughter further away. She further isolated herself.
Earlier, you mentioned that touching moment between Felicia and Carol and when it happened, I reflected on the way you portray mothers. They are individual women first with whole lives. Then they’re mothers. We actually rarely see Felicia with her kid onscreen and Carol spends much of this season not in scenes with her grown child Sam. Was that a conscious choice?
That’s a really good question. When I created Felicia, I wanted to show that she was a mom with a life; that she had things to do; that she, you know, got pregnant young, but it wasn’t like she was a single mom that didn’t ever have her shit together. Again, another trope. I wanted to show that, here’s this powerful, sexy woman who has a kid and has her own salon and it’s thriving. And she can drink but she’s not alcoholic and, God, am I jealous of her. So yeah, I think you’re right. Motherhood is a part of their story, but it’s not the only part of their story.
I want to go back to the fallout between Sam and Carol because it was driven by the same tension between Sam and Brit regarding Joel: Sam being really honest. Does someone in recovery, in your opinion, need to have a different relationship to honesty than someone who isn’t?
I’ve heard this: If we start being dishonest in one area, we will start being dishonest in another area, and then finally I’m at a bar and ordering a drink. I do believe that. We say we want to make amends unless we would do harm. So there is being honest and being harmful and we don’t want to do that, but in my opinion, Sam telling Brit, “I almost hooked up with Joel but I didn’t,” was kind of causing more harm than good, in a way. Unfortunately, I think we have to be honest because we’ve lied our whole lives. I lied about drinking for years. For years. My mother when I came in, she didn’t know I was an alcoholic. That’s crazy to me. But I was so good at concealing it. Even some of my good friends were like, “I didn’t know it was that bad.” And now I’m like, “How did you not know that?” But you do what you have to do to get your next hit. All humans lie, of course. But we have to be more careful, I think, about that stuff.
Sam is pretty indecisive all season in every area but one: her job. She initially walked away from it at the start, but returned and then fought to keep it. Why was that the one sure thing in Sam’s life? Especially for someone in recovery working in a field that has a historical relationship to alcohol and substance use disorders.
I think the job, without her knowing it, is part of her higher power. Then being in a job where people drink lot — I mean, I’m in Hollywood. Talk about that. (Laughs.) We get sober and we should be able to go anywhere. Now, do I like being in a bar with drunk people? No, I don’t, that’s not enjoyable for me. But I don’t want to be limited in what I can do. That’s not why I got sober to begin with. I think it’s funny because you’re the second person to be like, journalism is a really alcoholic field. But, you know, my mother wanted to be a journalist and to me, journalism is the highest level of writing to me. I value it and I put it above TV writing, so that’s where I’m coming from with that and what I’m putting into the character — but also, she fought for that job. That was her first, real sober job. She’s not going to just give that up. No way. “I didn’t come all this way to give it up for some dude. That’s not happening.”
Speaking of dudes — Sam has a really complicated relationship with the men in her life this season. She’s with Ricky Velez’s Alex and then during one episode — where she’s dealing with death — ends up kissing both James and Joel. Can you talk about what you wanted to show by having her make those choices?
It was the first thing she said in the premiere, which is: I want hot sex, I want a relationship. So she really wanted that … I’m going to call it the heteronormative experience. I got sober and after the year and a half or so, I was like, “I just want a guy. I just want a boyfriend.” Everyone was like, slow down, you have the rest of your life. So I understand where she’s coming from there. Also, he’s a normie. She was just dating an alcoholic and he’s the alcoholic who’s gone out and started drinking again. That’s terrifying. So she doesn’t want to do that again. I think she goes to the polar opposite of that, and she finds that but because she stops going to meetings — stops talking to the sponsor — she’s self-sabotaging. And so how do you self-sabotage? Well, you go to what you know.
You go to what’s familiar to you, and you may not drink but you’re going to do other things. There are other things that we alcoholics can do without picking up a drink that is really damaging to us. Trying to hook up with James and trying to hook up with Joel is definitely in that category. She felt like she was being ignored and when Alex is like, “It’s always about you,” Sam also has abandonment issues from her father. So when someone says that to you, you’re like, “Oh my god, you don’t want to be with me.” She doesn’t understand that a fight doesn’t mean the end of a relationship yet. She just thinks it’s over-over because her dad died. Anytime a man is like, “I’m having a problem here” — it’s like, “Oh, it’s over. It’s done, so, therefore, I can go hook up with who I want.” But no, Sam, have a conversation first.
This season you also bring in Sam’s aunt-in-law, played by Molly Ringwald, for an episode focused on Sam and Carol saying goodbye to Sam’s dad. She and Ally have a long history, going back to a young adult favorite, The Breakfast Club. How did that happen?
The Shiva episode is definitely very close to my heart. It was based on my dad’s Shiva and based on my family. My dad was a cellist. That was a big thing in my life. But Ally actually mentioned to me that she thought Molly would be amazing in the part of the sister, and I was like, hell yeah. So Molly was like, I would love to, and she was amazing. We talked about the role and she just brought it. The two of them have such a history in real life that you feel that history in the show. It’s a weird mirror, but it really works. She made a character that I think a lot of people would think is evil very sympathetic. That’s what you call really great acting.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Single Drunk Female season two airs Wednesdays on Freeform and is currently streaming on Hulu.
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