Last Friday, Hulu released their latest show Shrill and it’s sure to be remembered as being one of the first, and hopefully not the last, of its kind. Co-created by Lindy West and Aidy Bryant and based on West’s book of the same name, Shrill follows Bryant as Annie, a plus-size woman living in Portland, Oregon as she embarks on a journey of loving her body and choosing herself in all facets of her life. The concept itself doesn’t seem anything new, since there is a generous amount of television dedicated to portraying women living their lives, overcoming insecurities, growing and making mistakes along the way. However, the portrayal of a fat woman who’s perfectly happy being fat that makes Shrill‘s ordinariness seem revolutionary.
When we’re introduced to Annie, she hasn’t achieved what she’s hoped for at her job at a local newspaper, is having sex with a grown man who makes her leave from the back door, and begrudgingly partaking in a disgusting diet. She’s not where she wants to be but convinces herself that it is the best she will ever be fortunate enough to receive. But, an unplanned pregnancy and honest, supportive conversations with her roommate and best friend, Fran, shakes her into realizing that it’s time to start thinking about what’s best for her and start doing everything in her power to get it—all while still happy and comfortable in her body. Annie embarks on a road to self-discovery, like many women have in television. But, allowing her to do so without creating a major fuss around her accepting her body is what sets Shrill apart from every other narrative surrounding fat women.
And we don’t just get to see a fat woman living her life—we see her make plenty of mistakes, too! On her pursuit to take life by the horns, she’s often a terrible, self-centered friend to her biggest supporters. It only makes it worse that her too-frequent moments of being a crappy friend usually revolve around her reconciling with her doofus friends-with-benefits turned “boyfriend”, Ryan. Fran encourages Annie on countless occasions in work and personal endeavors, yet the single instance she needs just a few empowering words as she hurries to an important work event, Annie can’t spare a moment to support her friend. You never stop rooting for Annie but there are plenty of moments that you’re simply rooting for her to do better. It’s more than unfortunate and frustrating that portraying a larger woman being shitty to the people who love her most is groundbreaking in television, and most other forms of screen art, but, alas, it is and Shrill does so perfectly.
The story alone will catch audience’s attention and Bryant’s charismatic performance further elevates the series in her ability to capture the authenticity in its words. After watching her be a superstar on Saturday Night Live since 2012, the Hulu series generously offers the world the opportunity to see more of her talent and ability to command the screen. Whether she’s self-doubting or confident or selfish or just being a person, the star and co-creator lovingly allows Annie to be a woman ready to take on the world and stumble at times. Shrill is a great vehicle for Bryant to shine outside the SNL spotlight, but it also functions has a phenomenal introduction to Lolly Adefope as Fran. Again, it’s more than annoying that we’re only now presented with a black, plus-sized lesbian woman on screen but Adefope’s fierce and versatile performance softens the blow.
As a nineteen-year old, fat young woman, it’s incredible to watch a show with two female characters who are shaped more like me than most characters I’ve seen on screen. This is the first significant period of my life that I’ve simultaneously learned to love my body and realize it’s more than normal to not actually think that much about my size, so to see a pool party packed with fat women in bright swimwear, enjoying themselves, is something I never could’ve imagined I’d see. While it’s irritating that I’m now learning about the lower possibility the morning-after pill will work for me through a television series, having a series like Shrill brings me hope for even younger teenage girls who will grow up knowing the show. Of course, it would’ve been nice to have a show like this in my unbearably awkward high school years, but I’m more than happy to have it now.