It stars Aidy Bryant
You may not have heard all that much (...yet) about Aidy Bryant, who plays Shrill’s lead Annie Easton. To date most of her comedy career has been playing out on US live sketch show Saturday Night Live (where she’s been nominated for two Emmys). She’s consistently been one of the show’s biggest laugh-getters with recurring bits like her take on White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Tinker Bell’s rude sister Tonker Bell, and her semi-regular double-act appearances alongside Kate McKinnon.
She’s shown up in plenty of other comedy series too; she was in Broad City, Portlandia and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, plus a number of episodes of Girls. She’s been in movies too; you might recognise her from The Big Sick or I Feel Pretty. So while this might be her first solo series, she’s no first-timer – and with the amount of charm she shows here, this show is only the beginning for her.
It’s based on the book by Lindy West
Well, loosely based; they’re throwing a lot of new jokes in there too. But Lindy West’s best-selling book Shrill: Notes From A Loud Woman is the basis of this series. West is now an op-ed writer for The New York Times, having written high-profile pieces on internet culture, racism, sexism and fat-shaming. This series takes the rough outlines of its story and a bunch of scenes and topics from the early stages of West’s career.
So like West, Annie starts out doing a less than inspiring job at a street paper (West was a film critic; Annie is Assistant Calendar Editor) before finding a way to turn her bland role into a showcase for her real writing talent. In Annie’s case, it’s by penning a restaurant review that’s really a thought-provoking take on strip clubs.
It’s not a long-term commitment – yet
With Saturday Night Live taking up pretty much all of Bryant’s time, it was tricky fitting Shrill into her schedule. That’s why it’s only six episodes – which is still remarkably short for a comedy on US television, where longer runs are still seen as the norm.
It definitely works to the show’s benefit though; while a lot of comedies that are focused on millennials tend to drift (because young people are aimless, obviously), each episode here is packed with memorable scenes and moments. It’s the kind of show where each episode leaves you wanting more; fortunately it’s already been renewed for a second season in 2020.
It’s all about body positivity
The start of the first episode sees Annie on the hunt for a morning coffee to start her day. Instead, she spots a poster for a crazy personal training regime that seems to revolve around kicking pizza. Unfortunately, the actual trainer spots her checking out the poster and pounces. “You have a small person in you who’s dying to get out,” she says, clutching Annie’s wrists as proof.
Annie smiles and shrugs it off; it’s definitely not the first time something like this has happened to her. But across the six episodes we gradually see her come to embrace who she is, and that means no longer being ashamed to call herself “fat”. She stops making excuses for other people’s assumptions and rudeness and starts taking the first small steps towards self-acceptance.
But it’s not a one-issue show
Unlike a lot of issue-focused comedies, Shrill has more than one string to its bow. It’s just as much about Annie’s struggles with her drifting relationship with barely-there boyfriend Ryan (Luka Jones) as it is about how people treat her because of her size. Early in the first episode she has a no-drama abortion (it’s one of several recent US comedies to depict abortion in a refreshingly matter-of-fact way) largely because she realises that the main reason she had for keeping the baby was to tie him closer to her, and she deserves better than a man she has to trap into a commitment. With that kind of relationship, it’s no surprise that this also turns out to be a comedy about dating.
There’s a lot of laughs at her soul-crushing workplace too, with her hilariously unsupportive boss (John Cameron Mitchell) and Amadi (Ian Owens) a co-worker that actually does back her up. Then there’s her parents (played by long-time comedy stars Daniel Stern and Julia Sweeney), who can’t help trying to “improve” their daughter in various well-meaning but really not helpful ways. At least best friend Fran (Lolly Adefope) always has her back.
Best of all, Annie herself is far from one-dimensional. Her desire to get along and her hurt at the superficial categories people force her into are real. So is her selfish, self-centred side. She’s a fully-fledged human being; she’s also an extremely funny one.
Shrill screens on SBS VICELAND Tuesdays in September at 9.30pm and the entire season is available as a box set at SBS On Demand.
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