SMILF's Bridgette Is TV's Most Important New Character

Photo: Courtesy of Showtime.

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TV pilots are a tricky, tricky challenge. It’s nearly impossible to welcome viewers to an entirely new world, convey who a main character is in about 22 minutes, and actually make us all laugh. Yet, Showtime’s new comedy SMILF managed to do all of that and more with its Sunday night series premiere, “A Box of Dunkies and Two Squirts of Maple Syrup.” The show opener introduces us to the titular SMILF, Bridgette Bird (creator-executive producer Frankie Shaw), a single mom to an adorable toddler son named Larry Bird (the Reimer twins, Alexandra and Anna). Bridgette arrives on screen fully formed, with complex outlooks on sex, mothering, and the proper amount of maple syrup to shoot into one’s mouth in the wee hours of the morning. Bridgette is the best new character on television.

In the second scene we ever see with Bridgette, she’s completely naked in her crayon-scrawled bathtub with Larry, who’s giggling and having the best time. We immediately understand what kind of mom she is. This is our heroine at her most honest, without the leering camera angles we so often see on television when it comes to nude women. That lack of creepy objectification all falls in line with Shaw’s vision for her Showtime series. “When women are naked in the show it’s honest nudity, and we’re not objectifying their bodies, whether it’s me or anyone else to reverse what we’re used to seeing,” Shaw, who directed the episode, told Refinery29 in between editing the fourth episode of SMILF and taking her real-life son Isaac, 9, to a rock climbing gym.

Shaw understands viewers are “just craving something else, craving women’s natural state,” and is here to give us just that. Throughout “A Box of Dunkies,” Bridgette crams in more unexpected, but shockingly relatable, sexuality in a single episode of TV than an average comedy manages to include in a full season. Bridgette runs down a gynecologist's office, butt out in her hospital gown, screaming about kegels. She tries to masturbate, but falls asleep with a vibrator still inside of her, and she successfully masturbates later to the Facebook photos of her ex’s hard-nippled new girlfriend Nelson Rose Taylor (Samara Weaving). “Part of what I’m drawn to when I’m writing is sort of a fantasy aspect [of women] and the secret life,” Shaw, a self-described feminist, explains. “So, a lot of this is a huge discrepancy between reality and women’s fantasy lives.”

Bridgette even tries to have sex next to a sleeping Larry, who is covered from view by a mountain of blankets. The plan goes disastrously wrong when her booty call Jesse (Alex Brightman), is freaked out by the surprise appearance of a toddler’s hanging foot while he’s mid-missionary position.

It seems the hilarious, full-frontal-filled scene comes from Shaw’s own experiences. “It was a thing of like, when you’re stuck by your circumstance, what do you do?” the Boston native explains of writing the memorable moment. “In reality the first time I had sex after my son was born, the guy was even weirded out, we were in the living room, and my son was in the bedroom sleeping. So it was this interesting point about the comfort a mom has knowing [their sleeping child] will stay asleep.”

Since we currently live in a troll culture, it’s likely somewhere out there in the bowels of social media, a Twitter egg avatar is complaining about Bridgette’s fearless sexuality. You could already hear the cries of, “What kind of mother…” Yet, Shaw isn’t really worried about the haters, and that’s the whole point of SMILF, a “deliberate” feminist title created to take back the sexist phrase “MILF” from male objectification. “I’m just like, ‘If it offends you don’t watch.’ Whatever; it is what it is. [These are] stories I feel are fun and important to tell,” Shaw says.

This aim explains the unexpected way “A Box Of Dunkies” ends: with Bridgette coming out as a sexual abuse survivor during an audition for a PSA. The public service announcement is about veteran PTSD, and Bridgette’s audition is so jaw-droppingly moving, the college-aged producer (Graham Rogers) asks her, “Have you been to war?” A smiling Bridgette, who is holding Larry, explains she was sexually abused by her father. “[That] also causes PTSD, so I guess I kind of have been to war,” she says with a grin still plastered on her face — she did ace the audition after all. Since Bridgette is talking to two dude-bro-looking college students, we expect her admission is going to tank her chances of staying with the PSA, which she was immediately cast in moments after her audition. Instead, the other male producer (Nate Richman) shares how sexual violence has affected his own life, as his sister was raped in college. “Really messed her up,” he adds, showing empathy in his own way.

The point of the scene was to not only to shed light on a layer of trauma many women carry with them, but to also set the groundwork for the rest of SMILF season 1. “You saw her leave her kid to binge and have this messy life. If we understand she’s a victim of trauma, maybe it could put together some of the pieces without being on some soap box,” Shaw says. “Part of what I like to explore is, what if people actually say the things they know to be true?”

Wherever that exploration takes us going forward, I’ll be rooting for Bridgette, despite the inevitable questionable choices ahead. “[It's] fun to see her fall on her ass and make a fool of herself and take a step forward and two steps back,” Shaw says. “But, you do see there’s optimism there. That can allow us to stay with her.”

Optimism, purple vibrators, and screams about kegels — what more does one need?

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