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How ‘Single Drunk Female’ creator Simone Finch built a show around her own messy path to sobriety

Sofia Black-D'Elia as Sam in "Single Drunk Female."Elizabeth Sisson/Freeform

When Simone Finch first began writing the television pilot for “Single Drunk Female,” now airing Thursdays on Freeform, the main character wasn’t an alcoholic. She was, however, a trainwreck of self-destruction, booze-addled escapades, and one-night stands. “It was very much, ‘Haha, she’s a hot mess. This is so funny.’ But she had no pathos or vulnerability,” says Finch, who hails from Melrose.

When Finch got sober, she came to a “self-realization” about her script as well. “I was in pretty heavy denial for a long time. When I finally accepted that I was an alcoholic, then I was like, ‘First of all, this character is obviously me. And second of all, if she’s me, then she needs to be an alcoholic.’ That’s where it jumped off and the script became something real.”

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In the new series (episodes are also available on Hulu), Samantha Fink (Sofia Black-D’Elia) may be droll, but she’s also a walking disaster who showed up drunk to work and accidentally assaulted her boss. After getting fired and hitting rock bottom, she moves back home to live with her neurotic “smother” (Ally Sheedy) in suburban Boston. She’s forced to go to AA, gets a wry, no-nonsense sponsor (Rebecca Henderson), and tries to make amends with family and friends for her bad behavior. “I miss being a drunk,” Sam laments to a new co-worker. “There’s a lot less accountability.”

We chatted with Finch, 35, who was previously a staff writer for “The Conners,” via Zoom from her home in Los Angeles.

Q. How did your own journey to sobriety influence the script and the character of Samantha?

A. Samantha is really who I was when I was newly sober and new to sobriety. She’s very similar. Her attitude, the way she carries herself, the selfishness. I could go on. The other part that really resonates with my life is the relationship between the mother and daughter. When I was newly sober, I was not the best daughter in the world. And after I graduated from college at McGill [University in Montreal], I lived at home with my mother for six months, which is what inspired that part of the script. The idea for the pilot was: What if I got sober on my mother’s couch [in Melrose] instead of Los Angeles? I can honestly say our relationship has changed a lot — and for the better. We now have a true relationship versus a surface one.

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"Single Drunk Female" creator Simone Finch grew up in Melrose.Handout

Q. Is any of the boozy bad behavior in the first episode drawn from your own life?

A. I did dance to Shakira in a bar, six shots in, by myself, and I thought I was really sexy [laughs]. That happens in the pilot when she’s on the bar and is all like, “Woohoo!” People were like, “Yeah, that’s not hot.”

Q. How did the character and the script evolve as you worked on it over the years?

A. At first Sam was almost too crass and too brusque. There wasn’t a lot of vulnerability to her. And [”Girls” showrunner] Jenni Konner, who was my supervisor [and an executive producer] on this project, she really helped me bring out the vulnerable side of the character that it really needed. At first, I admit, that was really hard for me. Jenni said that I hadn’t forgiven my drunk self. And she was right! Because I didn’t want her to be likable. I was like, “She is horrible!” And Jenni was like, “No, she’s a human being.” I think this process, ironically, has helped with forgiving myself and accepting my past. Which I don’t like to do.

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Q. What is Sam’s journey this season?

A. She’s just starting to get to know who she is. When you’re drinking and in active addiction, you have no idea who you are or what you want. I think she’s getting to a place where she’s starting to figure out what she wants to do and where she wants to go. She’s also falling in love. She’s becoming a better friend. She’s becoming a better daughter.

Q. Sam’s relationship with two of her friends — Felicia [Lily Mae Harrington], her ride-or-die drinking buddy, and her former best friend, Brit [Sasha Compère] — is, shall we say, complicated.

A. Brit is based on one of my best friends that I grew up with who will still not speak to me today. It’s one of the things that I regret the most. I understand that it’s her choice not to have me in her life, and I respect that. But it’s been rough. And frankly with the show coming out, it’s brought up those feelings again.

Q. Were you at all hesitant about exposing yourself in such a brutally honest way?

A. On the one hand as an artist, you want to put yourself in your work. That’s what makes it interesting. On the other hand, in some ways I’ve crossed a few lines — in that I’ve made myself more vulnerable than I think other people have. On the day of the TCAs [the Television Critics Association press event], I had a vulnerability hangover. I just was like, “Oy vey iz mir, I just bared my soul to 200 journalists.” It can get overwhelming. So I’m just trying to learn how to balance that.

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Q. What was that like, watching the story unfold on set?

A. There were some days where it was really emotional for me. There’s some stuff that comes later in the season where she’s dealing with the grief of having lost her father, and that was really hard because my father passed away when I was 20. [Finch’s father, David, was a cellist for the Boston Pops, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Boston Ballet.] I cried a few times. I’m not going to lie.

Q. How did you find the humor in your experience? Did it take some distance?

A. I find it hilarious now. I was such a mess. I had crazy eyes. I wanted to sleep with everyone. I was all over the place. I have no qualms about showing that. I have to laugh at myself in recovery. I can’t take myself too seriously. There’s a phrase they say [in AA], which is “Wear your sobriety like a loose garment,” and that’s how I look at the show. It wears its sobriety like a loose garment, and that’s why I think people are connecting with it.

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Q. How did growing up in the Boston area influence your sense of humor?

A. People just love to make fun of each other in Boston and they don’t take themselves too seriously. I think that my show and the characters are direct in that same way. I really miss the stab-you-in-the-front mentality! In California, there’s a lot of stab-you-in-the-back.

Interview was edited and condensed. Christopher Wallenberg can be reached at chriswallenberg@gmail.com.