Laura Chinn didn’t know that her childhood in Florida was unusual until she moved to Los Angeles and started to talk about it.
“Someone would just ask me a casual question about my childhood, and I would respond with a story or adventure that I had gone on,” said Chinn. “And people’s reactions were so, like, shocked,” she said.
Growing up in Clearwater, on the state’s west coast, Chinn and her friends were forced to grow up fast.
“We were all raised by single moms and that left us to raise ourselves in a lot of ways. There was no curfew, there was no structure, no family vacations, no family dinner. Everyone dropped out of high school, and all of that just seemed very normal to me,” said Chinn. “At 12 years old, I could just walk out my front door and didn’t have to come home until three in the morning… which obviously led to getting in trouble.”
The writer and actress, who worked on “Children’s Hospital” and “The Mick,” based her new series “Florida Girls” on her experience in the Sunshine State. The series kicks off with four women — played by Chinn, Laci Mosley (“The Wedding Year”), Melanie Field (“Heathers,” “Shrill”) and Patty Guggenheim (“Splitting Up Together”) — in cutoff shorts and bikini tops, standing in front of their mobile home as their only ambitious friend drives away to go to college.
“We never imagined one of us would go back to school, get a real job and get the hell out of Florida,” says Chinn’s character, Shelby. “Off to meet new people, begin a new story and leave us here to rot.”
“When I was initially pitching it, the thought was a Florida girl moves to LA, [but] you see that so much,” said Chinn of the pilot. “What you never see is the person leaves for New York or LA… and the people who were left behind. So that was kind of interesting to us as a premise.”
Although the characters were perfectly comfortable living off of gas station food and waitressing tips, they begin to question their lives when their friend leaves. Chinn’s character considers getting a GED while Mosley’s fixates on getting her wealthy boyfriend to propose. All four rely on each other to navigate life near or below the poverty line.
Chinn pulled most of the plot points in the show — like working at a mermaid-themed bar, bringing white friends to a black barbecue and growing up with a single parent — from her and her friends’ lives. And though honest portrayals of poverty are rare on television, setting the show in a trailer park and featuring plot points about food stamps was easy. “It all flowed very seamlessly because it was just stuff that I had experienced or seen firsthand,” she said.
But even with some heavy themes, the show is a pure sitcom.
“I really wanted the show to just have four women being funny. Not like a dramedy, just a hard comedy. That was very important to us,” said Chinn.
She compared the close-knit ensemble to Abbi and Ilana from “Broad City”: “These girls are a little rougher around the edges than the ‘Broad City’ girls, but I think underneath they really do love each other and are a family…they’re not going to break each other’s hearts or f— each other over.”
The first season was shot in Georgia, but Chinn wants to eventually return to her home state for filming. She laughed when asked why Florida is such a national fascination.
“I’ve thought about it a lot, actually. What I’ve come to is that Florida is basically just America, all stuffed into one state… there are so many Latino people, rich New Yorkers come down and retire, there are large Jewish communities, and there’s a lot of black people. There’s a lot of middle-class people and there’s tons of poverty,” she said. “And that, combined with extreme heat and some very randomized weather patterns, just makes for kind of a wild time.”
The first two episodes of “Florida Girls” premiere at 10 p.m. Wednesday on Pop TV.