Hulu’s new comedy Shrill has many elements familiar to stories about people entering into adulthood while navigating work and relationships. But while it is a series that’s very interested in those day-to-day obstacles and the various fascinating interpersonal details that often erupt from them, it is ultimately a series about one woman learning just how comfortable she is in her own body, despite how frequently the world around her insists she shouldn’t be.
Shrill is co-executive produced and written by Aidy Bryant (SNL), Ali Rushfield (Love), and Lindy West, and is adapted from (or inspired by) the latter’s non-fiction book, Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman. The series stars Bryant as Annie, a writer at a Portland alt weekly (that’s more or less a stand-in for Seattle’s The Stranger), who seems perpetually on the verge of becoming the woman she wants to be, if only the people she surrounds herself with (by choice and otherwise) would let her. That extends to everyone but Annie’s roommate and best friend Fran (Lolly Adefope), a superbly confident woman who, over the course of the short but satisfying six-episode first season, remains steadfastly in her friend’s corner.
That’s in sharp contrast to nearly everyone else with whom Annie has a relationship — tenuous or not. The first few episodes are primarily concerned with showing how, in varying ways, people treat Annie’s body and her size as something to comment on or express concern over. None more passive aggressively than her mother (fellow SNL vet Julia Sweeney), who can’t (or won’t) let an opportunity to hint at her daughter’s body slide. Things are a little better with her father (Daniel Stern), with whom Annie seems to have a closer, more openly loving relationship, but he nevertheless seems oblivious to the microaggressions coming from his and his wife’s mouths.
While Shrill spends a lot of time building Annie’s familial relationships, it’s her romantic and professional ones that stand out the most. Part of that is because of the similarities in how she’s treated by her would-be boyfriend (but really more like friend with benefits) Ryan (Luka Jones), a bearded doofus too invested in his Alcatraz podcast (Talkin’ ‘Traz) and who makes Annie climb over his back fence when leaving, so he doesn’t have to introduce her to his friends and roommates. The way in which Ryan so casually dehumanizes Annie shares a parallel with how she’s treated by her self-important boss Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell). Gabe reflexively rejects all of Annie’s pitches, presumably in part because of preconceived notions based on how she looks.
That’s all upended (to a certain extent) when Annie turns a review of a strip club buffet into a two-thousand word article on the lives of the women who work there. It’s a moment of triumph for Annie, who’s been knocked around by nearly everyone she comes into contact with in her daily life — including, and perhaps most egregiously, a personal trainer who not only feels comfortable touching Annie, but also insists “There’s a small person inside of [Annie] dying to get out.” But Annie’s professional success opens up a whole new can of worms, as her article introduces her to the distinct cesspool-like pleasure that is every website’s comments section. Gabe insists it’s a good thing that Annie’s got a troll, like it’s a badge of honor all internet writers earn and must learn to deal with, and that the discourse, unpleasant as it is, actually means more clicks.
Though it reads like a comedy and is headed up by very funny comedic actors, Shrill plays surprisingly more on the dramatic side of things. There are plenty of funny moments, like when Annie insists on a refund for a pregnancy test by taking the stick up to the pharmacy counter, anytime Ryan mentions Talkin’ ‘Traz, or, really, anything that comes out of Gabe’s mouth, but that’s not where the series’ interests ultimately lie. It would be easy to see Shrill devolve into a story about Annie’s attempts to change her body and shame those who shamed her, but hat would be hacky and unfulfilling (we’re looking at you, Insatiable). Instead, Shrill follows the arc of Annie discovering she’s actually comfortable with who she is and the body she has, and in the process of that discovery, takes steps to becoming the person she wants to be.
Shrill season 1 begins streaming on Friday, March 15, 2019 on Hulu.