On SMILF’s Disney Fairy Tale Turned Sexual Assault Nightmare

Photo: Courtesy of Showtime.
When you talk to writer-actress-director Frankie Shaw about about her new Showtime series SMILF, the idea of “the zipless fuck” comes up pretty quickly. The term, coined by Erica Jong in her feminist 1973 novel Fear Of Flying, is the fantasy of a completely egalitarian hookup between two strangers, free of ulterior motives or power plays. We’re led to believe we’re seeing the emotional version of that magical, elusive roll in the hay during Sunday night’s “Half a Sheet Cake & A Blue-Raspberry Slushie,” when our heroine Bridgette Bird (Shaw) meets a man from Craigslist for a quick $300. Yet, this Disney princess-flavuored grocery store fairytale sours, showing viewers just how quickly, and disturbingly, sexual assault can happen.
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As with many real-life crises, Bridgette is driven to Craigslist when she’s in dire need of cash. The rent is overdue, she can’t figure how to put her own spin on lucrative sexy Internet videos, and meeting up with a man offering hundreds of dollars just to “see her face” sounds like the best course of action. As a woman who exists in the world, I was immediately terrified for Bridg, wondering whether the mystery man, later identified as a “schlub” dad named Craig (Jeremy Shamos), would try to physically assault or kidnap the single mom.
But, SMILF lulls Bridgette, and therefore viewers, into a sense of security. Craig calmly gives Bridgette the $300 from his van, and offers her another $300 just to get a soda with him. The duo ends up at a brightly-lit, well-populated grocery store, where Craig buys those two sodas, along with a bag popcorn, and a hot dog, like they’re at the movies. Yet, this isn’t some dark cavern of a theater; this is the food court of a chain store and nothing bad happens there, right? Craig further proves he’s a Nice Guy when we learn his teen daughter attends the same high school Bridgette once went to and he’s only doing “this” — aka spending exorbitant amounts of money to watch pretty girls eat snack foods with him — to avoid his marriage. “I have a good heart, I really do,” the sweater-wearing 50-something-year-old promises Bridgette.
Bridgette clearly believes Craig, because that admission is immediately followed by one of her signature fantasies. This time, she’s standing in the dairy aisle in full costume as Beauty And The Beast’s Belle, beset by yogurts and gallons of milk, waiting for her prince. Then, Craig appears in all his Beast regalia to waltz a golden dress-wearing Bridgette through the snack and soda aisle. The fantasy dance sequence is interspersed with silent peeks at Bridgette and Craig’s actual “date,” which looks pretty platonic; it’s clearly merely two people having a great conversation. The meaning of the scene, that Craig is a prince we all assumed was a dangerous beast, is lost on no one.
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Then, SMILF proves we were right all along —the Beast was in fact always a Beast, proclamations to the contrary or not. The way Bridgette comes to learn this fact makes the realization even worse, since this is the most carefree we’ve seen the aspiring actress all season. Following the fantasy sequence, Bridgette reveals her childhood hero was WNBA superstar and hall of famer Jennifer Azzi. Bridgette assumes Craig will have no idea who the athlete is, but, instead, he rattles of Azzi’s many accomplishments and reveals Boston will soon get a WNBA expansion team of their own.
As Bridgette visibly lights up at the possibility of making the fictional Boston Spirit team, gushing, “This has been my dream my entire life,” Craig aggressively violates her. While he assures Bridgette “You’re gonna make it,” the married man reaches under the table and, in the words of the President of the United States, grabs her "by the pussy." Such an assault is already horrifying, but it’s chilling to know Craig waited until each and every one of Bridgette’s defences were down to assault her. In fact, he made her hopeful and happy — kindly asking her to “promise” to try out for the Spirit team — before he tried to rip all of that joy away from her with one reach of his hand.
Thankfully, Bridgette, already a victim of repeated sexual assault, lets her own hand do some talking as well, when she rears back in shock, hops to her feet, and punches the predator squarely in the nose. Craig obviously knew how wrong his behaviour was, because he coolly looks his victim in the eyes right before she hits him. There is no remorse or shock there. Even when Craig runs out of the store with blood pouring from his nose, we can tell he knows what he did was purposefully wrong. Once he’s flat on his back, all he can do is mutter “Jesus!” and leave. If he thought Bridgette’s reaction was unjustified, and that she was “asking for it,” he would have demanded a manager or screamed at her for mixed signals. Instead, her dashes out of the store like a coward, likely assuming the authorities might be called on him.
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At least by the end “Half a Sheet Cake” we see proof Bridgette’s light can’t actually be dimmed by some creep in a non-ironic ugly sweater. Before leaving the scene of the assault, the single mom buys a toy her son Larry (Reimer twins Alexandra and Anna) was eyeing in last episode “1,800 Filet-O-Fishes & One Small Diet Coke” and a basketball for herself. She closes the episode practicing her sweet moves on the walk home to the triumphant lyrics of Mikey Mike’s “Doin’ Me.”
In a climate where new stories of high-powered sexual assault seem to come out every day, it’s important to understand this type of violence doesn’t only happen on Hollywood casting couches and offices. It happens in well-lit groceries right under the noses of countless people, at the hands of kind-eyed middle aged fathers. We can all be grateful when the men of SMILF commit such offenses, a woman doesn’t just grab back — she punches a creep in the face and then goes about her day.
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