Go behind the scenes with the cast of SMILF as they discuss what’s in store for Season 2. Starring Frankie Shaw. SMILF Season 2 premieres Sunday, January 20 at 10:30pm ET/PT.
Filmed on location in Boston, this season finds Bridgette trying to move forward and focus on her future, while attempting to exorcise old ghosts and atone for past misdeeds. She’s still toiling away in her day job working for narcissistic boss Ally. Meanwhile, Bridgette’s mother Tutu rallies from a heartbreaking setback punctuated by the presence of her co-dependent younger sister Jackie. Ex-boyfriend Rafi and his girlfriend Nelson Rose grow closer, while Eliza deals with her own family drama.
Season 2 returns January 20.
“Roseanne” was canceled following a racist tweet by Roseanne Barr. In response, Sara Gilbert tweeted, “This is incredibly sad and difficult for all of us, as we’ve created a show that we believe in, are proud of, and that audiences love — one that is separate and apart from the opinions and words of one cast member.”
Frankie Shaw: “Roseanne” is and was so important to so many people, and I can say “SMILF” is directly inspired by growing up watching “Roseanne” and seeing people who felt like my family on television. I was like, “Oh, those people speak to each other like how my family speaks to each other,” you know, with sarcasm.
Sara Gilbert: And I felt watching “SMILF,” I was thinking this is so amazing that this character is struggling, doesn’t have money, it’s difficult to buy things. Even when people are portrayed as working class on TV, you don’t usually see the real struggle.
Shaw: What is different in filming this new season of “Roseanne”? Are you dealing with different issues?
Gilbert: I never go in thinking these are the issues that we want to take on, but it is just a way to talk about things that we’re experiencing right now through the lens of this family. So we got to talk about how people are divided politically without it being about anyone’s politics specifically, just about how does a family deal with this conflict. Or my son likes to wear skirts and more feminine clothing, so how does that affect the family relationship or how they treat him. I always think our writers do such a great job of doing things that are in current events without making it feel like we’re doing an issue. And I thought you did the same thing honestly with sexual harassment issues between men and women, and power, and just a woman’s place in the world. Was that the main reason you wanted to make this story?
Shaw: Yeah, there was sort of a layered approach while writing “SMILF.” On the surface, what it’s like to be broke and raising a kid and navigating co-parenting, and then underneath that, I wanted to explore feminine identity and the issues we all face. It wasn’t like, oh, how do we directly make this a feminist show. It’s really just like, what is life like for me and other women, who are harassed, who have been sexually abused, who have to deal with objectification or their own identity.
Gilbert: How much of your life influences the show?
Shaw: The way we like to talk about Bridgette is she’s a very exaggerated version of Frankie. We didn’t call the show Frankie for a reason. When we’re stuck in the writers room, what is a true story we can tell here? It always comes back to a kernel of truth. So that’s important to us, but because we want to talk about certain issues, we make Bridgette the butt of the joke. So on one hand, she’s very similar to me, and then also a huge departure and very exaggerated and a lot messier. But there are elements of myself from a long time ago when things were really difficult, when my son was younger, when I was struggling with an eating disorder and residual effects of trauma, that we put into this show very much deliberately.
Gilbert: And she is very flawed and can be sort of self-centered and antihero in some ways. Do you feel like the ways that she’s flawed are the same flaws that you either have or had back then?
Shaw: Yeah, when we’re talking about her in the writers room, we say Bridgette can’t be woke. She hasn’t read the books or had the conversations, so that’s something that felt really important. I’m not claiming to be woke, but I’m trying to be as educated as possible. What about you and Darlene? What’s true about you, and what’s true about the character?
Gilbert: I think over time since I played Darlene originally, I probably have gotten more vulnerable and gotten older so I’ve gone through more hard knocks, and I think I wanted to bring that to Darlene, that kind of humanity so she can still have a sharp tongue and have a tough side but a little wear on the wheels, you know? I wanted to bring that feeling to her.
My goal in general, in any project, is to want to tell people’s stories and have them relate. I think in order to do that, I feel like I have to bring a chunk of myself, probably what you’re saying about being in the writers room and wanting real stories. So in that way, I think we’re the same. I’ve always thought Darlene was a little stronger than me. She just has this fire and this strength that maybe I have, but maybe you just don’t feel it when it’s you. Not when I’m playing it, but I can later watch her on the screen and see this kind of inner strength.
Frankie can be seen in these round table snippets. Check out her snippet and all the other different snippets. She is featured in them. I’ve added screencaps of the photo session to the gallery. Enjoy!
Seven of TV’s top funny ladies — Drew Barrymore, Rachel Brosnahan, Alison Brie, Tracee Ellis Ross, Debra Messing, Molly Shannon and Frankie Shaw — open up about pushing boundaries, demanding fair pay and the long, hard battle to keep their clothes on: “It wasn’t until we started having these conversations that I realized I’d been sexually harassed.”
These days, there is a palpable camaraderie when you bring together Hollywood’s highest-profile actresses. At least a few of those who gathered for The Hollywood Reporter’s annual Television Comedy Actress Roundtable have spent recent months in war rooms and on email chains mapping out a plan to change the gender politics that have contributed to a culture of #MeToo accusations and glaring pay inequality. The passion that has fueled the Time’s Up movement was on display during this mid-April conversation, which touched on everything from nudity demands to a yanked episode of Black-ish. Over the course of an hour, the septet — Drew Barrymore, 43 (Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet); Alison Brie, 35 (Netflix’s GLOW); Rachel Brosnahan, 27 (Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel); Debra Messing, 49 (NBC’s Will & Grace); Tracee Ellis Ross, 45 (ABC’s Black-ish); Molly Shannon, 53 (HBO’s Divorce); and Frankie Shaw, 36 (Showtime’s SMILF) — got deeply personal, with at least a few tales prompting spontaneous table-banging and plenty of applause.
Let’s start broad: What’s the most amusing or frustrating feedback you’ve received when trying out for a part?
TRACEE ELLIS ROSS I had a casting director say I need to work on my girls, as they [her breasts] were referred to, because they were too low, which is where God put them, so I think they’re in a really good spot. (Laughs.) But she called down the hall for one of her assistants to bring another bra …
ALISON BRIE During an audition?
ROSS Yes, ma’am.
DREW BARRYMORE Oh no.
ROSS Yes, ma’am. (Laughter.) She was like, “Does anyone have on a 34B?” They come down, and it was a 32 something or other, and I was like, “That’s not gonna fit.” She was like, “They’ll spill out, it’ll be great.”
FRANKIE SHAW One time I was in an audition for House of Lies, and the casting director said I needed to show more skin. She actually took the shirt off her back and gave me her tank top. I still didn’t get the part.
MOLLY SHANNON I remember going to an audition when I was first starting out, and I bumped into another girl auditioning who, right before I went in, was like, “Oh, my God, have you gained, like, a hundred pounds?”
RACHEL BROSNAHAN No!
BARRYMORE That happened to me recently. I’d gained a bunch of weight, and I was in a restaurant, and a woman goes, “God, you have so many kids.” And I was like, “Well, two.” And she goes, “And obviously one on the way.” I looked at her and, for the first time in my life, I go, “No, I’m just fucking fat.” (Everyone claps.)
There’s been lots of discussion lately about whether we can and should be able to separate art from the artist. Where do you stand?
SHAW It depends on how harmful they are.
ROSS And what the harm is.
This has come up in the context of Roseanne Barr and her controversial social media presence, which prompted some to boycott her sitcom [before it was canceled by ABC a month and a half after this interview].
DEBRA MESSING In a perfect world, we take on a different character, one that’s separate from ourselves. The thing that has made Roseanne and Roseanne Barr so …
ROSS Better word.
MESSING … is that, in its day, it was one of the greatest shows ever, and it really pushed the boundaries, but she made it clear from the beginning that this was her — she said, “I’m just being me.” That’s very different from saying, “I’m creating a character.” And then when you have someone who is very outspoken on social media and who says things like “Heil Hitler” or that gay people are pedophiles or …
BROSNAHAN Oh God.
MESSING So, it’s not about having a conversation about health care or about defense of the country, it’s about humanity, racism, sexism.
SHAW And essentially normalizing white supremacy.
TheWrap Emmy magazine: Prior to the Harvey Weinstein scandal, she says, “I was really unsure how people were going to respond to ‘SMILF’ talking about sexual harassment and abuse”
This story about Frankie Shaw first appeared in The Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
She never really had a role model. Frankie Shaw studied English literature and wrote her first screenplay in college, and in the back of her mind she always knew she wanted to be a filmmaker.
But apart from a few directors like Jane Campion and Cate Shortland, she didn’t see any women doing what she wanted to do — so to break into the business, Shaw became an actress, appearing in “Blue Mountain State,” “Mixology” and “Mr. Robot” and almost invariably finding herself working for male directors and showrunners.
“The only time I was ever directed by a woman was on ‘Mr. Robot,’” she said. “Every other guest-starring role and independent film were all male directors. I think that’s part of the reason it took me so long to do it, because I didn’t see anyone modeling it for me.”
But in the summer of 2014, Shaw wrote and directed two short films; one, titled “SMILF” and based on her own experiences as a single mother trying to make it in Hollywood, won the top short-film prize at Sundance and landed her a series deal with Showtime.
(It was also a finalist in TheWrap’s ShortList Film Festival in 2015.)
All eight episodes in the first season were directed by women, and most of the writers room was female as well. “No matter what, the room was going to be mostly women and people of color,” she said. “Last year I sent an email telling all of my departments that 50 percent of every department had to be women or people of color, and this year it’s actually going to be in the contracts.
“It’s important for the comfort level, and also important that people are given the opportunity to move forward.”
And speaking of moving forward, Shaw’s character, Bridgette, spends much of the season struggling to come to terms with the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. The episodes, which mix humor with wrenching emotion, were all written and filmed before the Harvey Weinstein scandal opened the floodgates.
“The show we wrote before the #MeToo movement happened to be all about #MeToo,” she said. “I was really unsure how people were going to respond to ‘SMILF’ talking about sexual harassment and sexual abuse, but this moment has made the show feel more resonant.”
One sign of its impact: two Golden Globe nominations.
“I do feel like there’s been a cultural shift,” she added. “I think we still have a way to go, and time will tell if more women and people of color will get the same opportunity that men have. But just my show being on the air and me being able to showrun, it is a definite example of how things are changing.”
Showrunners from ‘Roseanne,’ ‘The Americans’ and more on the challenges of standing out in the Peak TV era
In an era of too much TV, creating must-see TV is no easy task. The Envelope gathered six TV masters — Whitney Cummings (“Roseanne”), Joel Fields (“The Americans”), Laeta Kalogridis (“Altered Carbon”), Prentice Penny (“Insecure”), Michael Schur (“The Good Place”) and Frankie Shaw (“SMILF“) — to discuss the creative process. The conversation touched on the responsibility a show has to its audience, being unafraid to push boundaries and knowing when it’s time to bring a show to a close.
You guys have explored sexism, classism, morality, sexual assault, mental illness. Talk about being topical.
Michael Schur: “The Good Place” was explicitly about ethics and morality and it was designed before the current administration. But it has been interesting to be discussing this stuff at a time when the front page of every newspaper, including yours, very frequently has the word “ethics” in it. So that’s been interesting, but it’s coincidental.
Whitney Cummings: I am a stand-up [comic] first, so I think that my brain is very attracted to the things that make people uncomfortable, that make people laugh, that piss people off. Anything that I’m conflicted about is usually something I want to write about. When the idea of “Roseanne” came across my plate, I was attracted to how controversial the show always was and how controversial the star tends to be. I disagreed with a lot of the things that the show was going to maybe explore. And after the election, I just had a compulsion to be in a room with someone that I disagree with and see if we could find common ground.
Frankie, at a screening of the pilot, there was a woman there who took real issue with the fact that Bridget, your character, makes a quick run to the corner store while her son is sleeping.
Frankie Shaw: She was demanding to know if I had done it myself. I’m not claiming to represent every single mother who has ever lived. This is a show that takes place in blue-collar Boston. There’s a Latino baby daddy. And, then, it’s very female-centered. A lot of the stories are based on stories that have happened to me or my writers. And so it’s not necessarily, ‘Oh, we’re going to be this issue show.’ We’re just sort of reflecting the world in which the show takes place — and the generational differences when you are in a place where you’re struggling financially.
Joel Fields: On “The Americans,” the whole show [about Cold War-era Russian spies infiltrating America] was designed to not be topical. It was designed to take a look at an enemy that was no longer an enemy and to examine that time.
Schur: You should have just been like, ‘Yeah we knew.’ You should have just claimed you knew it was all going to unfold this way.
Fields: Yeah, I’m getting a lot of pitches that the next show we do should be about world peace because now that’ll happen.
Schur: Like “The Secret.” Just put it out there.
Fields: But it’s actually been irritating to have all this stuff happen. My partner Joe [Weisberg] says it’s bad for the show. I like to say it’s bad for the world too. But it sucks because you’re trying to do something that isn’t about that, that’s about getting people to look at identity and look at conflict and look at enemies and look at marriage in a different way, and suddenly it’s now through the prism of what’s happening in the world today, and it’s no longer universal. But look, none of us can control how the audience is going to experience what we do. And the good news is now the shows we do are around for a long time. So audiences later will experience them in different ways.
Prentice Penny: Yeah, our show went through a weird thing where we started breaking stories during the first season with Obama still in office. And our show is talking about things that people of color talk about privately and then putting those things out publicly. Conversations that we have in our living rooms and with our friends that most of the audiences, you know, certainly mainstream white audiences don’t ever get to be a part of. And then the election happened so the beginning [of the season] is a lot of people of color wanting to talk about things that don’t get heard, and then the election happened and this sort of veil was off. And a lot of white people were like, ‘This is crazy.’[laughter]
Cummings: You guys didn’t know there’s racism out there?
Schur: Welcome white people. Come in.[laughter]
Cummings: In comedies, it used to be ‘How far can we push the envelope, how can we sort of test people, how can we challenge people, how can we make people laugh?’ But then the election happened and it was like there’s this new social responsibility involved where you want to be edgy and you want to explore and you want to push the envelope, but you also don’t want to set a bad example or reinforce stereotypes. There’s this whole new floor of like broken glass that you kind of have to walk around.
Penny: But it has to have meaning behind it, sometimes networks want to have you push stuff as opposed to what is it actually saying? Not just throwing something out there for shock value.
Frankie, this is your first time writing. You took a training course?
Shaw: I did the WGA training program for six weeks. But also you can’t know until you’re doing it. I think maybe the most surprising part was being faced with your worst qualities and your best qualities. I feel like, ‘Oh, this part of my being uber controlling really works here, but it also maybe doesn’t work with this personality.’ So you’re just sort of constantly having to be a little bit self-aware and figure out the best way to manage up here and down there. That’s been a huge thing for me.
Laeta Kalogridis: It is certainly the most intensity to something that doesn’t involve curing cancer. There’s a lot of like real deep panicked intensity.
Fields: I learned a lot from working over many years with Steven Bochco, who today I miss a lot. And it was the opposite with Steven. There was never panic. There was always a sure hand. There was always incredible respect. He always had the writer’s back and the writer’s room was a sacred place. And then we tell personal stories, and he was always efficient and calm. And he knew that he could be a leader and that it was also a team sport. So he found this incredible way of running shows.
Penny: One of the things that I always try to take from it is, how do you get the best? We’re all trying to get to this goal, right? So how do you just try to get the best out of this person’s gifts, that person’s gifts and kind of still shape that into an actual story. And I think that if you hire good people, then you’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting because you can trust them now to do those things. One of the things I learned working on “Happy Endings” under a showrunner named Josh Bycel — he always told me, ‘Your life is your life. The show is not your life. Have a life.’ I don’t always follow it great, but I always go back to it as a benchmark of just being a well-rounded healthy individual because you’re managing so many people, so many circumstances.
Shaw: Right, it’s hard, but it’s definitely also the most fun. If it’s working well, I’ve never laughed harder in my entire life.
Fields: Yeah, I’m with you. It’s fun. It’s joyous. I mean, we all work hard, but we’re not curing cancer. We’re telling stories. It’s great.
Cummings: I feel like we all probably say, ‘We’re not curing cancer, everybody calm down.’ But I remember Michelle Obama did a call to some producers or something. It was a couple of years ago, and she was talking about how the metrics were in for how “Will and Grace” actually affected the outcome of the marriage equality vote because it was putting gay people in the rooms of people that maybe never met a gay couple before, maybe had prejudices around it. And she was basically like, ‘Please put diverse people on your shows.’ We’re not curing cancer, but we kind of are subconsciously helping heal people.
Laeta, you’re in a male-dominated field with this R-rated, sci-fi epic drama on Netflix. Talk about the importance of showing that women can do this.
Kalogridis: For me, the fun is when you get to create these female characters who have all this agency and have all this power in a very dark and chaotic world. The idea that our nightmares — of women and more marginalized people — are just as well explored. We did this sequence that’s probably the most intense sequence in the entire show. It’s two women, and it is an all-out knock-down, drag-out fight. One of them is Latina and one of them is Asian, and they fill the whole screen. They are everything and that is very much what the show is about for me, that representational element. I don’t have control over how people take it, but I do have control over what we were saying, which is ‘Watch the … out because it’s coming.’ I think anything that’s trying to do something different is always going to be hard.
Cummings: Yeah, there’s already what we go through when you make something, ‘God, that wasn’t good enough’ and ‘Oh, this could be better, and we should reshoot that.’ And now you get the added feedback from Twitter and stuff.
Penny: I had an experience last year with it, and I need to figure out how to be better. We had an episode where the character doesn’t use a condom. For the most part, we try to always be responsible. I remember people were like, ‘You’re saying black people get this rate of AIDS, and you’re being irresponsible. You’re showing this.” And I was like, ‘Well, it’s a TV show. We don’t have time to show them go get the condom, cut it open, put it on.’ I got into a big debate with people and I was like, ‘I’m doing so much for black people behind the curtain you guys don’t even know.’ Like I’m tearing down the black community and I want AIDS to get black people. It was just crazy.
Cummings: Still, you guys talk about how fun it is. I have been working on a show where the main character voted for Donald Trump. So our room was very tense and stressful and not a safe space. Very triggering, so it was intense but kind of cathartic at the same time. But there was a really big argument in the room about Dan Connor [talking about] undocumented workers taking his jobs because he’s in freelance construction, whether he would say “illegals.” And I was like, ‘We can’t say that. This is wrong. It’s racist.’ I was so angry. But that’s what he would say. He’s not PC. There’s a kid on the show in a dress. He would not say gender-nonconforming. He’s like, ‘He’s gay.’
Were you shocked by the numbers that the show receives? And the aftermath of things that have come to light?
Cummings: I don’t know what you’re talking about. Yes.
Kalogridis: I think there’s something really valuable about triggering conversation, in getting people to talk about something. Even, dear God, help us all, if it’s uncomfortable. One of the things that worries me the most is the idea that censorship is in some way virtuous. Censorship is never virtuous. Censorship is just censorship.
Shaw: If you are normalizing certain behavior that might lead to the devaluing of human life, then that’s the question that we all have to answer when we are creating and if we can justify it. Everyone should feel represented, but we’re also dealing with a bigger thing here where a lot of people are losing their lives.
Schur: To me, that’s where the discussion about the art and the artist kind of breaks down, because you want to believe as a society that certain things are settled. Like for example, you are not allowed to stand up and say that only white people should be allowed to vote or own property. We ought to consider that a settled issue. The problem is that in the last couple of years guess who’s back? The people who say that. I thought that as a reasonable society we had sliced off the extreme fringe of violent racist, reductive, absurd attitudes. And now sadly it feels like, ‘Oh, look the Nazis are back. That’s fun. Let’s get the Nazis back in.’
Kalogridis: If I present a show in which a man who’s lived for hundreds of years gets off on killing women. Yes, it’s horrible and I’m showing violence towards women. I’m also showing what I think will happen if someone gets into a position of power whose idea of a good time is hurting people and then can’t die and becomes so rich.
Penny: It’s to what you were saying earlier, it’s what is the driving force behind the art? If I’m showing something that’s sort of a cautionary tale about this because that’s my intent versus my intent is to hurt or to be mean or to dismiss.
Cummings: That’s super interesting because my intent in terms of working with Roseanne is I would like a liberal, progressive person to be in that room. And I guess I’m going to have to do it. When you make a show, can you tell the difference between the show’s star and the show they make? I think we’re at a point where you kind of can’t.
Schur: It’s just asking so much of audiences because the show in this case is named after her and it’s based, it was originally based on her stand up, which was based on her real life. And then she goes on Twitter and says all the stuff she says — I just want to say, I believe the question that started this conversation was, ‘What’s the worst network note you’ve ever gotten?’[laughter]
Cummings: The network does say no Nazis a lot to me, I hear that. No Nazis.
Let’s talk about the responsibility to the audience in another way. [To Schur] You pulled off the greatest TV twist when you revealed that “The Good Place” wasn’t in fact in the good place. And how did you move forward from that?
Schur: So the twist at the end of Season 1 was baked into the show from the beginning. It was part of what got Ted Danson to sign on. And because we knew about it so early we had a chance with the writers to look forward. So we’ve been a sort of a season ahead in terms of being able to anticipate what we’re going to do and we decided pretty early that because the twist at the end was so world upending that we didn’t want to try to outdo ourselves.[To Fields] How about knowing when it’s time to wrap things up?
Fields: Joe and I talked from early days about what the end was. And I think we were towards the end of Season 2, beginning of Season 3, when [FX chief] John Landgraf came to us and said, ‘How many seasons do you think you need to tell the story?’ And Joe and I took a long walk and sort of pitched out two versions. It was pretty clear to us that it was going to be six seasons. We tried a version that was five for a day, and it just wasn’t enough room. So we were able to write to that from early on and that was really liberating.
Cummings: In network TV, you just write the finale for every season.