'SMILF' Offers a Refreshingly Honest View of Single Parenthood

Showtime's 'SMILF' debunks the notion that mothers have superhuman powers

Frankie Shaw and Anna Chanel Reimer in 'SMILF.'
Disney-ABC Domestic Television /

Among the many contributions that the pornography industry has made to Western culture are almost 400 acronyms, from AGB to YPLF. Many of them are rather crude, most are extremely tasteless and none of them should be Googled by the faint of heart.

One of the acronyms which has transcended the world of porn and entered mainstream usage is MILF. Used to describe an attractive older woman, MILF was popularized when it was used in the 1999 movie “American Pie” to describe the mother of one of the main characters. It stands for – look away if you’re averse to profanity – Mother I’d Like to Fuck.

It seems inevitable that before too long, the MILF phenomenon would reach our television screens in one form or another.

That form is “SMILF,” a new show written by and starring Frankie Shaw, who based the eight-part Showtime program on her award-winning short movie of the same name. Billed as a drama-comedy, “SMILF” is a gritty and realistic portrait of Bridgette Bird, a single mother (hence the addition of the “S” to the original acronym) raising her toddler son in a tiny south Boston apartment.

Each episode of “SMILF” begins with a quote relevant to the show. The first such quote – which Google insists belongs to Rudyard Kipling, but which “SMILF” describes as a Hebrew proverb – is “God cannot be everywhere, so s/he invented mothers.” The show itself, however, very quickly debunks the notion that mothers have superhuman powers, depicting instead the very human behavior of, well, human beings.

Bridgette, an aspiring actor, dreams of playing professional basketball in the WNBA. Despite not being related to the Boston Celtics’ greatest-ever player, she names her son Larry in his honor.

She is raising her son with his father, Rafi, played by former hip-hop artist Miguel Gomez. Rafi tries his hardest to be present for Larry’s nightly bedtime ritual – that is, when he can tear himself away from his latest girlfriend.

In the first episode of “SMILF,” Bridgette is playing pickup basketball on a neighborhood court. There’s an obvious attraction between Bridgette and one of the players and they start to chat once the game is over. As soon as Bridgette’s infant son makes his presence known, however, the player beats a hasty retreat, leaving mother and son looking crestfallen.

Dirty and honest

That opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the show, which is honestly dirty and dirtily honest.

Bridgette is unashamedly horny (she confides in her gynecologist that she has not had sex since before her son was born and is worried that giving birth has resulted in a misshapen vagina). In the opening episode, she masturbates twice (once while looking at photographs of her ex’s girlfriend); sends out a late-night booty call to an ex-boyfriend, ostensibly for sex but actually because she wants his opinion on the state of her postpartum vagina (only to be frustrated by his reluctance to make love in the same bed as a sleeping baby); and leaves her child alone in the apartment while she makes an emergency run to a local convenience store for more candy and snacks than she can even carry.

So many examples of poor parenting were crammed into the first 30-minute episode that viewers could have been forgiven for thinking this would be a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of parenthood, not a comedy.

Single motherhood has long been a staple of television output – from “Gilmore Girls” to “Friends.” Women (and very occasionally, men) raising a child without a co-parent have been at the center of many shows. “SMILF,” however, presents a refreshingly honest view of what single parenthood entails and the sacrifices that must be made. It’s messy and the show encapsulates this perfectly.

The tone of the show is wildly uneven. There are sweet, intimate moments between mother and child – Bridgette and Larry taking a bath together, for example, and Bridgette showing her son what his birth did to her previously flat stomach – followed by scenes of onanistic depravity.

As the episodes progress, however, the tone settles and several narratives begin to emerge. This, in turn, makes “SMILF” easier to watch; there are fewer curveballs for the viewer to deal with and the various strands of the plot (and hints of future subplots to come) start to become evident.

“SMILF” won’t be to everybody’s taste, but, like its creator, it is entertaining, smart, sassy and sexy. Shaw, who has just turned 30, already has an impressive resume, including writer/director credits on several short movies and actor credits in dozens of movies. With her acerbic voice and sharp wit, she has much to say about the female condition in the United States of Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein et al.

Given the recent revelations about several other male stars of the entertainment industry, “SMILF” and other shows like it are a welcome addition to television’s repertoire and should be compulsory viewing for men and women alike.