The 'SMILF' Series Premiere Uses Raw Humor To Highlight An Unfair Bias Against Single Mothers
Bridgette's ex Rafi may show up for bedtime in the series premiere of SMILF, but Frankie Shaw's character is the main caregiver to their son Larry. After all, that's where the "single mom" of the show's title comes from. But why is it mainly Bridgette's responsibility to raise Larry? Because although Bridgette makes a number of questionable and flat-out inappropriate parenting choices in "A Box Of Dunkies & Two Squirts Of Maple Syrup," which Showtime made available to stream ahead of airing, her troubled parenting style shouldn't be your main takeaway. Instead, you should recognize how unfair it is that Rafi gets to live a very separate life from their son while Bridgette's world is entirely defined by Larry.
When you have a child, your entire life changes — there's no arguing with that. And children deserve parents who are wholly devoted to raising them. In SMILF, Bridgette and Rafi do have a healthy relationship as co-parents, but Rafi somehow gets a pass in most of the day-to-day duties. That surely has to do with the fact that he's a recovering addict. But even though Rafi is clean now and in a committed relationship, Bridgette is still the one living in essentially a studio apartment with their two-year-old son. While Rafi can come and go as he pleases — offering to "babysit" for Bridgette — she struggles with working, dating, and even food shopping as a single mom.
The full meaning of the word SMILF ("single mom I'd like to ...") isn't revealed until more than halfway through "A Box of Dunkies & Two Squirts Of Maple Syrup." Bridgette leaves Larry alone in their apartment (one of those aforementioned ill-advised parenting moments) to get food. She runs into an old friend, Jesse, and invites him back to her place so she can have sex for the first time since she had her son. But since the two-year-old Larry shares the same living room, bedroom, and bed with her, that poses a problem. She covers a sleeping Larry to trick Jesse, but needless to say, Jesse understandably freaks out when he discovers the toddler in bed. He offers to have sex with her another time when Larry isn't around, but as Bridgette says, "He's always around."
You could easily condemn Bridgette's bad behavior as just that. But Shaw, as the writer, director, and actor of SMILF, has created such a dysfunctional, but magnificent, character who you want to see succeed. (It also doesn't hurt that the twin girls who play Larry, Anna and Alexandra Reimer, are next-level adorable.) Bridgette shows regret for her mistakes and actively tries to do right by Larry, even with the tremendous roadblocks that have already been put into place. For instance, her past offers insight her behavior since Bridgette casually says she was sexually abused by her father at the end of the episode. Her mother, played by Rosie O'Donnell (reminding everyone how talented she is), helps Bridgette care for Larry, but clearly has her own mental health issues as well. So although Bridgette might not be doing her best, she's present and trying, which is more than you can say for Rafi.
That's not to condemn Rafi since he has his own issues to deal with and is not a villain by any means. But why is it that he is let off the hook when it comes to parenting responsibilities while Frankie isn't? Frankie has to bring Larry to auditions and spends every night at home with their toddler. On the other hand, Rafi is free to do as he pleases, stating that it's just a fact that he's going to miss putting Larry to bed sometimes. (Something that's simply not an option for Bridgette.) Maybe it will be revealed later exactly why Rafi doesn't take a more active role in parenting. But as it stands after the first episode, it makes you think about what the narrative would be if the roles were reserved. As a research-based Everyday Feminist article noted, society often praises single dads, but condemns single moms. If Rafi was doing his flawed attempts at being a single dad, would people view him in a more positive light than they do Frankie?
What's great about Shaw's series though is that SMILF isn't directly asking those questions of the audience — plus, it can be assumed that anyone of any gender who did what Bridgette did with Jesse would be judged. Instead, SMILF is showing a very real scenario that exists in America. The Census Bureau reported in 2016 that, "Of the 11 million families with children under age 18, and no spouse present, the majority are single mothers (8.5 million). Single fathers comprise the remaining 2.5 million single parent families." That means that more than 77 percent of single-parent homes are run by single moms. And as Shaw told the Boston Globe, "I feel like we talk a lot about having high standards of motherhood, but we don't [get into] the nitty gritty of how moms are not totally supported culturally, politically, or in the workforce."
As SMILF continues, Bridgette isn't going to become the world's greatest mom. And there are sure to be more horrifying setbacks like the Jesse incident. But Shaw has painted such a rich portrait of a woman who you feel genuine compassion for and whose unique and honest voice you want to hear more of. So while Bridgette balances her life and Larry's life without much support in Season 1 of SMILF, she'll be a single mom you'd like to — no, want to — watch.