“Shrill” on Hulu
“Body positivity” has become enough of a cultural watchword that it’s now the basis of several television shows. Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva,” Netflix’s “Insatiable” and AMC’s “Dietland” are just a handful of shows centering on plus-sized characters (and with varying degrees of success). Joining that list, and racing straight to the top, is Hulu’s “Shrill.” The hourlong dramedy is based on the essay collection Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by writer, comedian and activist Lindy West. West was a writer for Seattle’s legendary alt weekly The Stranger and went on to contribute work (much of it centering on feminism, pop culture and the fat acceptance movement) to Jezebel, The New York Times, “This American Life” and others.
“Shrill” stars “Saturday Night Live” cast member Aidy Bryant as aspiring journalist Annie, who works as a calendars editor for a hip alternative weekly newspaper in Portland. (Do those things still exist?) Twentysomething Annie is larger than average and isn’t cursed with movie star looks. As a result, she has a tendency to sacrifice her own wants and needs in order to please other people. Part of her brain tells her that it’s the only way people will like her.
Annie’s short-tempered boss at the newspaper, Gabe (actor/playwright John Cameron Mitchell), lords his “Gen X” cultural superiority over her wayward Millennialism (“I was the original bass player in Bikini Kill,” he humblebrags) and refuses to give her any significant writing assignments. Her “boyfriend” Ryan (Luka Jones, “People of Earth”) is little more than a hookup buddy. (“You should get a second pillow. That way I can have one when I sleep over,” Annie quietly suggests.) Ryan works at a hardware store and hosts a podcast dedicated entirely to Alcatraz, which tells you most of what you need to know about him.
One day, however, Annie ends up pregnant after yet another clandestine night of easy action with Ryan. She takes the “morning after” pill, but is only later informed by her pharmacist that the pill isn’t effective for women over 175 pounds. At first Annie freaks out, relying on her best friend/roommate (British comic Lolly Adefope) for help and guidance. But the realization that pregnancy is her problem and it’s a problem she’s going to have to figure out for herself provides Annie with an unlikely boost of strength.
Suddenly, forced to think exclusively about herself for a change, Annie starts develop some self-confidence. She stands up to her boss and gets her first story in the paper. She decides to stop taking crap from Ryan, which actually serves to peak his romantic interest. Of course her life is still a mess, and she’s still forced to deal with countless microagressions on a daily basis from people both well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning: the fitness trainer who insists that “there’s a thin girl inside you” or the online troll who posts pictures of pigs on her articles. But at least she’s on the path to accepting and loving herself.
“Shrill” balances its amusing pop cultural observations with some harsh realities about how cruel we can be—both to others and, ultimately, to ourselves. Relying on monologues more than seismic character change, though, the show doesn’t end up digging all that far past its “fat people are people too” premise. At a breezy six episodes, we’ve barely scratched the surface of who Annie is and who she could be. Maybe by season 2 both the main character and the show itself will be more comfortable in their own skin.