Trust: You’ve never seen young women on TV like the Florida Girls. Pop TV’s latest comedy centers on four 20-something women in Clearwater, Florida, who live together in a double-wide trailer and work together at a local bar. None of them have fathers or high-school diplomas, but they all have goals. Shelby, played by creator and showrunner Laura Chinn, wants to get her GED and leave the Sunshine State like one of their friends; Jayla (Laci Mosley) wants to meet a Sugar Daddy who will marry and take care of her; Erica (Patty Guggenheim) wants to do drugs and party any chance she gets; and Kaitlin (Melanie Field) wants to live with her friends forever.
Unapologetic and screwball in tone, Florida Girls is based on Chinn’s life growing up in Clearwater, on Florida’s west coast. Her co-stars were also familiar with the Sunshine State: Mosley spent part of her childhood nearby, just north of Miami, and Guggenheim spent her summers about an hour south of Clearwater while she was growing up.
The girls’ capers are raunchy and ridiculous, whether they’re pawning a necklace to pay an electric bill or convincing a frenemy to let them borrow a boat to throw the island party in tonight’s season finale. Along the way, Chinn and the writers navigate issues of class, gender, and race with a light touch. Vulture met with Chinn, Mosley, and Guggenheim in Los Angeles to talk about the challenges of portraying low-income women in the most derided state in America. (Field was on location in Budapest filming TNT’s The Angel of Darkness.)
Florida is often the laughingstock of the country. We’ve got Florida Man, hanging chads, drugged-out cannibals, and gators. You address these types of things on the show, but you’re never mean. How do you go about balancing all of that for a comedy?
Chinn: There’s such a fine line between Are you making light of these circumstances, or is there just inherent humor in trauma and in darkness? I grew up in situations that could be considered traumatic or upsetting, but I found a lot of humor in them. And that got me through. We all feel like we’re walking a tightrope and are very conscious of being on the right side of this thing. We have to be making fun of the right things.
There all these little details, like the dice on the rearview mirror or the furry cell-phone cover. And the Florida Man funeral. My favorite! Killed by an alligator, of course.
Guggenheim: While hiding from the police. [Laughs.]
Chinn: That was our little wink. We don’t want to make every episode about, Oh, eye roll, it’s Florida Man. But we can’t do a show about Florida without acknowledging …
Guggenheim: That’s how your friend could die!
Laci and Patty, did you learn anything new about Florida working on this show?
Mosley: Absolutely! I have not spent time in central Florida, but I’ve spent a lot of time with Laura, and I had a lot of questions for her during the whole process. Like, “Did you really wear this many swimsuits all the time everywhere that you went?” And she was like, “Yeah, we did!”
Guggenheim: Because it’s hot!
Mosley: When I moved back from [South Florida], I had like a wardrobe that looked like a highlighter pack. And I was like, “Oh, is this not how everyone dresses anywhere?” If you can’t see me from a mile away, that’s not how you want it.
How did you strike the right tone so that it’s funny without mocking?
Mosley: Thank God that Laura is also a black woman and was so observant and so delicate with what we’re doing. Especially as a woman of color, we’re always very concerned with the images of us on television because there aren’t many. So we’re really concerned with them being positive. But I think that we’ve also reached this phase where we can show people who are flawed. It’s not like Jayla’s a bad person. She’s a fun girl. She just lacks information. She don’t know all the things yet. I’m laughing with her, and I want to make sure that no one is ever laughing at her.
Do you know anyone like her? Is there anyone you’re drawing from for your performance?
Mosley: Jayla is like three of my family members, a combination of some women I used to go to the hair salon with, and some Florida girls.
Erica is the character that pulls at my heartstrings the most. She’s hilarious with her nudity and her thievery, but her life story is tough.
Guggenheim: She doesn’t know she’s sad. When we get to hear her point of view, she doesn’t want to be like her mom because she’s on food stamps and [she thinks] that makes her a welfare monster. When her friends are like, “You’re not like that. You can be different,” you get to see her learning. And I think that’s very relatable for a lot of people.
Chinn: We want to build empathy for these parts of the country where people are really struggling. People don’t struggle because they’re dicks or they’re lazy; people struggle because they come from true hardship. And the point of that whole episode was, it’s okay to take help from the government. It doesn’t make you a monster. You were raised a monster, but you don’t have to be a monster. You can step out of that.
They face hard times, but you don’t portray them as miserable.
Guggenheim: Somehow, they’re at a party every day. [Laughs.]
Kaitlin loves her life.
Chinn: Genuinely loves her life. And has good reason to. Part of the thing that we’re exploring thematically is: Is capitalism the answer? Is being in traffic everyday to go work for someone you hate the answer? Maybe just bartend at the beach and drink margaritas, and don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s not always the answer to make tons of money, and that doesn’t solve all your problems. Katilin is the voice for that.
Mosley: Kaitlin’s voice is necessary because life is a lottery. Some of us don’t get born into homes where resources, opportunity, information, and financial literacy are provided. So does that mean my life is worth less than someone who has those opportunities? Does that mean that I need to spend it engulfed in sadness? No. This is the human experience, and you can be happy with a little bit of money or a lot of money, or sad with both. Kaitlin’s fun because I love her duality. Yes, she is empowering. But I also love the other side of Kaitlin, which is that she wants things to stay the same so badly that she will pull you down to make sure that we’re staying here.
What about your perception of Florida going in, Patty? Sarasota is a beautiful and sleepy retirement community. Did the show open your eyes to other sides of the Sunshine State?
Guggenheim: Yes, but these are people similar to where I grew up in Indianapolis. I felt such a connection to this “we’re going to party all the time” vibe. We’re going to work a billion jobs just so we can buy blunts. You would save up for these kegs and then throw blowouts at our parents’ houses, just shady stuff constantly. I knew these kinds of characters, but from the Midwest.
Chinn: The biggest compliment that we’ve gotten so far is, “Oh, I’m from Long Island and I know these girls.” Or, “I’m from Texas and I know these girls.” That, to us, is everything we want. Because it’s not just Florida. It’s women without money doing the best they can.
What thing that is said about Florida bothers you the most?
Chinn: [Looking at Mosley] I’ve heard you talk about how Florida’s just America.
Mosley: Florida is the microcosm of the United States if we were to shove it all into one state. You get all seasons, you get all types of different people, you speak all types of different languages. When I was in Miami, I mostly spoke Spanish and I thought that was so cool to not necessarily have to operate with English because the United States doesn’t have an official language. Florida, really, is just a reflection of the entire country and what we are. The good, the bad, the ugly, everything.
Chinn: Every state has these headlines, it’s just that Florida gets the most clicks. Guys on meth run into Walmarts in other places.
I, too, am protective of my home state. But then I also know that the guy on meth that went into the Florida Walmart probably had an alligator on his head.
Guggenheim: And he’s naked!
Chinn: True! [Laughs.] If you add extreme heat, maybe everyone’s just a little more on edge. But it’s not that different. To your point, there are more alligators involved.
Or the guy was on drugs eating people. That guy exists too.
Chinn: He was also really hot, so that pushed him over the edge.
Guggenheim: Yeah, that’s why the headlines include “naked.” Like “Eating Pancakes in the Intersection, Naked.”
Chinn: They should have to include the temperature, and then we all go, “Oh, okay. It was 120 degrees, 90 percent humidity. I’ve done that.” [Laughs.]
What are the ways your show depicts Florida that you appreciate?
Guggenheim: Bikini tops everywhere. Bikini tops as bras.
Mosley: I love that our living room is outside. I found that out as a surprise. It was very, very hot [filming] in Savannah and there were these little tiny gnats that, ooh, they would chow down on you, girl. They love me. I was a buffet every day. We were gonna shoot one day in the living room, so I was like, “Oh, babe, we about to be inside! Air conditioning!” And then it was like, “Our living room is outside.”
Chinn: There’s a TV out there. Everything you could need.
Mosley: And a wading pool that Erica gets in to watch television. Which, now that I think about it, there’s a lot of wires down there. Not the smartest.
Chinn: Growing up, my mom had a couch in our front yard and a huge bucket of sand for cigarette butts. We would sit out there and just smoke, and that was our life.
How autobiographical is this story, Laura?
Chinn: Very. I never lived in a mobile-home park — I just wanted to not have the girls be in an apartment because I feel like we see that a lot — but I lived in a very tiny house. Not a ton of money. My stepdad is like the guy on the show. It’s all very accurate and personal. There are some episodes where I’m like, “Oh my God. I’m seeing my same experience play out.” I have friends from back home who are like, “I’m so scared to watch this episode.” Some of my friends get emotional and I’m like, “It’s a comedy. You know that.”
And you had a group of friends like these women?
Chinn: The best group of friends. We all raised each other. We were figuring stuff out and deeply loved each other like family.
Were they all missing father figures, too?
Chinn: Every single one. When I was in my 20s, I realized that was the thing we had in common over anything else. None of us had dads. All of our moms were working, busy, trying to get their lives together and so, from age 11, we were just taking care of ourselves.
Was there a story line or scene that was hard to nail in terms of the tone so that it would be funny but not mean?
Chinn: The stuff at Erica’s mom’s house [in “Welfare Queen”] was the closest to a drama of anything we shot.
Guggenheim: That aunt on the raft in the living room.
Chinn: It was very, very dark. I thought, Why are we gonna shy away from this? It’s real, it exists, let’s talk about it but obviously not offend anyone or make fun of it. It’s really hard.
Guggenheim: But it’s super-real. I know that’s in Indiana, too. I’ve been to houses where there’s no wall over here. It’s so real.
Chinn: Those things are real, like people having foster kids and collecting money. All those things happen, so we just wanted to talk about them without pointing a finger. They’re all people, so we try to do it as lovingly as possible.
Do you have other Floridians in the writers’ room with you?
Chinn: We don’t. I bring in my friends in order to talk with us. And we went to Florida and talked to a bunch of people. When we did the episode about race, Laci came in and consulted on that episode. We know we’re talking about sensitive stuff and we don’t want to offend anyone.
The reason why the show was created is because I was in writers’ rooms on other people’s shows and would tell a story about my childhood and people would be like, “What?” [Laughs.] For the most part, the writers went to really good schools, had two-parent households, and graduated high school, so it was foreign to everyone but very entertaining. I was like, There’s something here.
You hear writers bring in all kinds of experts to their rooms to talk issues, like drug addiction or parenting or criminal justice. I’ve never heard of a room where writers needed to hear about Florida.
Chinn: Yeah, totally! We do it so you can put a face to it, and you can gain empathy for a woman who’s looking for a rich guy for a husband. You hear her story and you go, Oh, of course you’re doing that. That’s your way out. You’re doing the best thing for yourself. It’s about giving empathy to all these things that are so easily dismissed as bad or wrong.