Is it ever acceptable to laugh at a person’s spiral into destructive addiction? That’s the question raised by Single Drunk Female (Disney+), a wry and snappy sitcom about a young woman whose ruinous drinking has caused her world to unravel and set her life and career back the best part of a decade.
Having somehow survived Disney+’s great content cull – the much-loved Willow spin-off has just vanished into the streaming ether – Single Drunk Female returns for a second season, as charming as ever but with that central conundrum of whether addiction can be funny unanswered.
The series isn’t quite going out on a limb. The Dublin-set, Belfast-shot The Dry, on RTÉ, approaches alcoholism from a similar deadpan perspective, orbiting the travails, lifestyle and otherwise, of a young woman whose bright future has gone up in flames.
In the case of Single Drunk Female the hilarity, or not, of alcoholism is dealt with simply by pushing past it. Sam Fink (Sofia Black-D’Elia) has been sober for several months, and is now giving pep talks to alcoholics at the local prison. As we rejoin the story her most significant issues are not booze-related. Instead, everything else in her life is falling quietly apart.
She still lives with a mother (played by the 1980s “brat pack” alumna Ally Sheedy) who’s trying too hard to be a “cool mom”. Sam’s attempts at relaunching her journalism career by writing listicles for a local website have stuttered. She fancies her boss (Jon Glaser) – but he’s uncomfortable dating a subordinate. That problem later resolves itself when he’s fired: bad for him professionally, a positive for Sam’s romantic prospects.
In other words, as Sam prepares to turn 29, she is a typical millennial with typically millennial problems. Those struggles are movingly conveyed by Black-D’Elia, who makes us believe that Sam can skate through life by the seat of her pants while glossing over deep-seated personal issues. She makes you believe in Sam as a happy-go-lucky young woman in denial about her unresolved traumas.
It’s a powerful performance, and she is in her element as the new season’s first episode ends at a birthday party at which her now-sober ex tries to kiss her. He assumes that because they’re both on the dry their relationship can carry on from where they left off. It’s not that simple, says Sam (who’d much rather be with her boss anyway).
She ends up hiding in her bedroom, on the run from wellwishers and also from the shadow of the out-of-control person she used to be. It’s a reminder that, underneath the laughs, Sam is still a damaged person trying to put her life back together. It is a level of nuance and empathy that elevate Single Drunk Female above other addiction dramas.