In 2016, New York Times contributor Lindy West published her memoir, Shrill: Notes From A Loud Woman. In it, she writes about her ‘struggle to convince herself, and then the world, that fat people have value’ and divulges how she learned to cope with the revulsion of strangers’ words thrown at her from behind the anonymity of a computer screen all because she’s a fat woman with an opinion.
In 2018, she wrote and executive produced the television adaptation of her bestseller to great acclaim, with Saturday Night Live star Aidy Bryant taking up the role of Annie Easton, the protagonist based on West.
We meet Annie at a point where she’s eager to improve many aspects of her life, including her career. She’s an aspiring journalist, and her boss Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell) dismisses her enthusiasm and bright ideas with shameless tactlessness. She’s persistent though, and makes inroads when her first article is published. Along with that though come piercing personal comments about Annie, tarnishing her milestone moment.
While it’s her first experience with internet trolls, she’s built up resilience over years of hearing comments by well-meaning but insulting people, from strangers to loved ones. From her mother’s remarks on the ease of regular exercise (delivered by an on-point Julia Sweeney) to a fellow café customer, clad in the latest active wear and eager to help Annie achieve her fitness goals, everyone who has an opinion of her body is not afraid to offer it to her. And offer it they do in the guise of magnanimous helpfulness, missing the dripping condescension completely.
As season 1 unfolds, we see Annie learn to ask for more from her love life, shared with the hapless Ryan (Luka Jones), and revel in her friendship with housemate and childhood friend Fran (Lolly Adefope, who is most wonderfully acerbic in this role), and the support of her loyal workmate Amadi (Ian Owens).
Annie has a lot of learning to do, a lot of defining of boundaries and acquiring more and more confidence in using her voice. Bryant, who co-developed the show with West and Alexandra Rushfield (Parks and Recreation), gently takes us by the hand to walk alongside her on this journey. She inspires our unwavering faith in Annie.
Season 2 - which will be fast-tracked from the US to land here on Jnuary 25 - is still top secret, but we can reveal that Annie makes some big decisions. One involves whether she should leave her job to take up an unpaid internship, and the other is about having Ryan by her side. She also faces ongoing issues with her mum, despite making progress in season 1. Season 2 also develops Fran’s story, as she navigates a break up and works out what she wants from life.
There is much joy in this series, in particular between Annie and Fran, who depict the deep love and laughter and fierce loyalty of women friends. Some of the most precious scenes are between Annie and her ailing father, played with warmth by Daniel Stern. He accepts his daughter for who she is, and the moments they share are funny and touching.
Thank goodness for West. Her raw openness and determination to achieve self-acceptance and call out the trolls are desperately needed and very welcome.
Season 2 of Shrill is now streaming at SBS On Demand:
The complete season 1 is available now at SBS On Demand.
In a new episode of The Playlist, Bill Hader talks to Fiona about tapping into his dark side in the sequel to 'It', and what he has been watching. Elsewhere, Ben and Fiona are loving the short-run comedy drama 'Shrill' on SBS Viceland and SBS On Demand, and they tell us what they've been watching.