Here’s what critics have to say about ‘SMILF’

Frankie Shaw SMILF
Frankie Shaw as Bridgette in 'SMILF.' –Mark Schafer/Showtime

Thanksgiving break means plenty of time to spend with loved ones and catch up on TV shows you might have missed. One such show is SMILF, a Showtime series filmed and set in South Boston about a single mom (Brookline native Frankie Shaw) trying to make ends meet. It debuted on November 5.

Shaw, 31, acts, writes, directs, and executive produces SMILF, which is based on a 2014 short film of the same name that won Shaw the Grand Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival.

But is the show worth your time? To help you decide whether to invest, we rounded up some of the more insightful thoughts we’ve read from critics about the show.

The Good

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Some of the biggest raves for SMILF are centered around Shaw’s performance as Bridgette. Refinery29’s Ariana Romero called her “TV’s most important new character.

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 Week‘s Lili Loofbourow implored viewers to move past the off-putting title of the show, saying “Ignore the name. SMILF is a masterpiece.”

Going by the first three episodes, Frankie Shaw — who writes, directs, produces, stars in, and serves as showrunner for SMILF — is a quadruple threat.

Finally, the Globe and Mail‘s John Doyle called SMILF “a small, intimate show” that is “typical of top TV right now.”

It feels distinctly artisanal, anchored in lived experience. It is about life seen through the lens of someone with a keen eye for magic in the mundane and a deep empathy for the unlucky. It’s still trying to find its feet, this little show, but even in its baby steps it is playful, inventive and as heartbreaking as it is funny.

The So-So

Many critics, like The Boston Globe‘s Matthew Gilbert, said that SMILF showed promise, but needed to focus its premise a bit.

Showtime made three episodes of SMILF available for review, and the show improved with each one. The premiere is tonally all over the place — it’s hard to know which of Bridgette’s mistakes are meant to be funny, and which speak of tragedy. […] But then, in episode three, Shaw seems to find her footing, and I found myself thinking that SMILF could develop a Shameless-like charm.

James Poniewozik of The New York Times offered similar sentiments in his review.

Like some past Showtime comedies (Happyish, Nurse Jackie), SMILF has an unsteady tone, swerving from emotional realism to quirkiness to slapstick raunch to abrupt fantasy sequences, in roughly descending order of what works best. There’s a riffing, open-mic quality to the first three episodes, as if the show were still trying on personalities. […] The first and third episodes end with emotional gut punches that offer hope that it will prove worth sticking through the rough patches.

The Ugly

The only out-and-out pan of the show came from The Boston Herald, which was headlined “Southie-set SMILF proves to be singlularly unfunny.”

Showtime’s Southie-set sitcom “SMILF” just might be the most sexually explicit series ever aired by a premium cable network. It’s the kind of show that makes “Girls” look like a TeenNick program. The pilot­ practically assaults viewers with a barrage of nudity and sexual situations. Unfortunately, it’s not especially funny. It’s one dark, depressing look at a SMILF — “Single Mother I’d Like to” — yeah, you get the idea.

Newsday‘s Verne Gay called the show “frustrating” and “confusing.”

Shaw’s good but her televised autobiography is a work in progress that can’t quite settle on tone, meaning or direction. Even the series title is frustrating, or especially frustrating — an expletive that either instantly demeans her or treats her as an object of ridicule. Confusion — hers and yours — is understandable.

Finally, the Washington Post‘s Hank Stuever lamented that while SMILF had its moments, it did very little to stand out in a crowded television landscape.

There’s little about “SMILF” that distinguishes it from a raft of similar shows that have come and gone — and will keep coming and going. Everyone’s mastered the techniques of portraiture fused with dark comedy, so if “SMILF” has something to say, it needs to hurry up and say it.

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