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Frankie Shaw Running the Show on Showtime’s ‘SMILF’

Showtime comedy SMILF starts up Sunday, November 5. Frankie Shaw created the show, which is based on her short film of the same name that won the Short Film Jury Prize for Fiction at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015. She plays Bridgette, a young mother from South Boston, in the series. Rosie O’Donnell plays Bridgette’s mother Tutu.

The two stars spoke at a TCA event a few months ago. Shaw said Bridgette is “loosely based” on her own life. “I tried to create Bridgette as her own person,” she added, “separate from who I am.”

O’Donnell was asked about the entertainment world now versus when she was Shaw’s age a few decades before. She said a new genre, the single-camera dramedy along the lines of Louie, Fleabag and Better Things, was hatched in recent times. “I think it’s a brilliant art form,” said O’Donnell. “It was not available when I was a young actress, when it was all multi-camera shoots.”

She added, “The world has changed dramatically from the time I was Frankie’s age.”

O’Donnell spoke about how SMILF started shooting November 9, a day after Election Day. She was inspired to see Shaw running the show, and said it took away some of the sting that, for her, the newly elected president represented. “It was amazing to see a 30-year-old woman running an entire show by herself,” said O’Donnell. “For me, to be 55-years-old, and see a 30-year-old woman who’s beautiful, smart, sexy, funny, intelligent, do everything--it helped me get through.”

O’Donnell called her Tutu character “a role of a lifetime,” and said she embraced playing a character with mental illness, based on her own struggles.

ABC Signature Studios produces SMILF with Showtime. All episodes in the first season are directed by women, including Shaw and Leslye Headland.

Shaw was previously in Mr. Robot as Shayla.

While the film world has frequently used Boston as a backdrop, Shaw said she’s excited for a TV series to be set there. Her mother was raised in Southie, and Shaw, who grew up in the Boston metro, said she spent every weekend of her childhood there.

“We’re really focusing on using Boston as much as we can,” she said. “It will definitely be a character in the show.”

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.