In Shrill, Hulus new comedy series, Aidy Bryant’s awakening happens quietly.
Aidy Bryant takes on trolls and body image in this too-brief dramedy.
The six-episode series is loosely based on Lindy Wests 2016 essay collection Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman; West is also co-writer and executive producer. Bryant plays Annie Easton, a calendar editor at the Portland-based Weekly Thorn, a stand-in for alt-weekly The Stranger, where West worked. Annie is a people-pleaser, but shes also trying to assert herself more as a writer. Shes amiable, even when her flaky hook-up Ryan (Luka Jones) makes her leave out the back door so as not to embarrass him in front of his roommates. Her roommate and friend Fran (Lolly Adefope) is supportive but calls out her people-pleasing behavior. And having SNL alum Julia Sweeney as Annies mom is an inspired choice.
Annie finds empowerment in her writing. Sent to review the lunch buffet at a strip club by her cocky editor Gabe (an underused John Cameron Mitchell), she instead bases the piece around the women who dance there. A rogue piece titled Hello, Im Fat” (based on a 2011 column West actually wrote) gets positive responses, but trolls also pile on in the comments section.
Though Annies battle with trolls isnt quite as encompassing as Wests wasat least not in just six episodesit makes for a strong narrative thrust. In one memorable scene, Annie and the papers IT person (played by comedian Jo Firestone) look through the awful comments in an effort to hunt down one particular troll. It’s a moment familiar to many women who have been harassed for having opinions online, and the two reclaim it to show the absurdity of the comments.
Shrill is a show about being fat, but that doesnt overpower. We dont see dramatic weight-loss transformations or Annie’s aspirations to be thinner, but we do see the micro-aggressions. The episode Pool is the strongest of the six. After slowly letting her inhibitions go over the course of a body-positive pool party only to be shamed by her fat-phobic boss for missing a work event, Annie returns home and unloads to Fran and another friend. She tells them shes constantly bombarded with ads telling her how to lose weight, and was told from a young age that being skinny would make her more likable.
Its a fucking mind prison, you know? Annie says. That every fucking woman everywhere has been programmed to believe. And Ive wasted so much time and energy and money and for what? Im fat. Im fucking fat. The show also highlights issues that women of a certain weight might not face, like the fact that the morning-after pill was not intended to work for women over 175 pounds.
While Shrill is adapted from Wests experiences, Bryant isnt just playing her or a character. She recently toldtheNew York Timesthat sometimes she has the thought that SNLonly cast herbecause she is fat, and like her character in Shrill, she struggled with her weight growing up. At SXSW on Monday, executive producer Elizabeth Banks said Pitch Perfect served as inspiration for Shrill, in terms of giving women a character they might not see onscreen.
“This is a story Ive always wanted to see on TV,” Bryant added. “I never quite felt like I saw myself onscreen.
If there is a critique ofShrill, it’s thatand I cant believe Im going to say this in an era of too much-TVthe series is a little too short. It feels like it’s only getting started, especially after Annies in-person confrontation with a troll. I would have liked to see a few of the relationships receive a little more structure, but I was also stoked to see women who look a little more like me onscreen.
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