[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for the “SMILF” Season 1 finale, “Mark’s Lunch & Two Cups of Coffee.”]
“SMILF” may be a Boston story through-and-through, but it’s aiming to reach a “Manhattan” audience with its finale.
In the final episode of Season 1, Frankie Shaw’s Southie single mom Bridgette Bird prepares to confront her father, who sexually abused her when she was a little girl. Abandoned by her dad shortly after the assault, Bridgette grew up with her mom (Rosie O’Donnell) and just wants to be heard by the man who’s always ignored her accusations.
“Women have not been believed — not just dismissed, but not believed,” Shaw said in in an interview with IndieWire. “If we lived in a society that was set up differently, that wouldn’t be the case.”
By framing the episode around Woody Allen, Shaw made sure its message would be heard loud-and-clear.
“We had the idea of the titles being the Woody Allen font as we were breaking the episode, and then we also put in the music in post, too,” Shaw said.
The episode opens with a quote — as does every episode of “SMILF” — but this one came from Allen: “The heart wants what it wants.” The rest of the opening (and closing) credits mimic the writer-director’s trademark white font on black backdrop and, as Shaw mentioned, the music is an instrumental version of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” the same piece used to open Allen’s 1979 film, “Manhattan.”
From there, the implications are clear: Allen’s adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, accused him of sexually abusing her when she was seven years old. In the series, Bridgette accused her own father of sexually abusing her when she was a similar age.
“It’s one thing to harass and abuse adults — I mean, they’re all bad — but when you’re abusing children [it’s a whole other level],” Shaw said. “So, Woody Allen, I guess there’s this controversy because he’s a beloved, or formerly beloved, filmmaker. Like, every boy in film school is obsessed with ‘Manhattan.'”
“But for me [making this episode] was like, ‘Dylan [Farrow], we believe you. Hi, Dylan. Other people believe you, even though it seems like the masses and popular culture dismiss your story.'”
Throughout its first season, “SMILF” has successfully embodied its lead character’s unflinching determination. As Bridgette Bird strives to provide a better life for her son and herself, the series stands proudly behind her do-whatever-it-takes attitude. The Golden Globe-nominated series isn’t a passive character study but an inspiring story of perseverance.
“We’ve seen that women have spoken out for so long and there have been no consequences [for the accused],” Shaw said. “Usually it’s the opposite: It’s a negative experience for the victim.”
As more and more women step forward to to voice allegations of sexual assault, especially in the entertainment industry, Shaw has noted that “SMILF” is becoming part of that movement. People are reaching out to talk to her about sexual abuse and harassment (a topic memorably addressed in the third episode, “Half a Sheet Cake & A Blue-Raspberry Slushie”), and she hopes the series can continue to help vocalize difficult talking points.
“I think absolutely our show is being defined by that and being grouped with this movement,” Shaw said. “Who knows what would have happened if this movement hadn’t happened, but this show was always going to be this. I don’t know if it would’ve been something people weren’t ready to talk about or if it would’ve been a show that people grabbed onto because it was the only thing talking about it, but now it can just be sort of in this empowered place of women coming out and belong to it.”
Though Bridgette doesn’t actually get to confront her dad — she mistakes another man for her father, reading him the letter she’d prepared before her mom intervenes to explain the mistake — the act of speaking up feels like a cathartic, vital moment for the character, just as the episode itself feels important beyond the show.
“This man was allegedly allowed to abuse his daughter and then marry his other daughter with no consequence,” Shaw said. “[So] if I can make art that claims the other side of it, I’m going to do it.”
“SMILF” Season 1 is available to stream on Showtime Anytime.