Pop Culturing: Bad Decisions, Body Positivity, Aidy Bryant & Much More in Hulu's 'Shrill'

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Friday March 15, 2019

Luka Jones, left, and Aidy Bryant in Hulu's "Shrill."
Luka Jones, left, and Aidy Bryant in Hulu's "Shrill."  (Source:Allyson Riggs/Hulu)

There's more to Hulu's "Shrill," which hits the streaming service on Friday, than you may expect. It's not just a cheery body positivity comedy with "Saturday Night Live" star Aidy Bryant. The show is a meditative examination on why we actively make bad decisions that are unhealthy for us (physically, mentally and emotionally), toxic workplaces, family dynamics, discrimination, and much more.

Bryant plays Annie Easton, an employee at a hip Seattle newspaper, who is unsatisfied with her role at the publication (she assembles the monthly event calendar — yawn) and wants to do more reporting and original writing. Standing in her way is her boss Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell), who is aloof and aggressive towards Annie especially when she attempts to pitch ideas for articles. Things aren't much better in her romantic life. Annie is seeing hipster man-baby Ryan (Luka Jones), who doesn't seem to have a job and is focused on launching a podcast about Alcatraz with his bros. He's incredibly awful to her, shaming her to sneak out of his house through the backdoor after hooking up, making excuses as to why he doesn't take her out on dates in public, and leads her on with his intentions. Annie also struggles with trying to lose weight and her overbearing mother (former "SNL" star Julia Sweeney) doesn't make things easier for her.

Aidy Bryant in Hulu's "Shrill." Photo credit: Allyson Riggs/Hulu

The first few episodes of this short six-episode season (episodes run a breezy 30 minutes) finds Annie gaining self-awareness and assertiveness. With the help of her longtime friend and roommate Fran (Lolly Adefope), Annie stops the cycle of apologizing for everything that she has trapped herself in over the years. She soon recognizes the small and large aggressions she faces from almost everyone in her life, including her boss, coworkers, and parents. That awareness helps her build a confidence that grows bigger and bigger throughout the season, which is often a positive for Annie as she stands up to Gabe to demand being assigned writing gigs. But it also becomes the root of her selfishness, causing conflict with Fran and her coworker (or, "work husband" as Gabe puts it) Amadi (Ian Owens).

"Shrill," based on the book "Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman" by Lindy West (who co-created the show along with Bryant; Alexandra Rushfield serves as showrunner), falls into the type of TV series that feels like the show on its way out. As Amazon, HBO and Netflix continue to make big-budget series with A-list talent both in front and behind the camera (think Amazon's upcoming "Lord of the Rings," HBO's "Game of Thrones" spinoff and the countless of multi-million dollar productions Netflix has in the works), smaller character-driven shows don't seem like the crown jewels they once were. Amazon has nixed Tig Notaro's "One Mississippi" and "Transparent" is on its way out. Hulu gave the ax to "Difficult People" and Netflix recently canceled "Friends from College." But "Shrill" may stick around for a while; it has a lot on its mind and it is a showcase for Bryant, who breaks out of her "SNL" shell, proving to be a talented actor with range.

Aidy Bryant, left, and John Cameron Mitchell in Hulu's "Shrill." Photo credit: Allyson Riggs/Hulu

Executively produced by Elizabeth Banks, "Shrill" is mostly about making decisions and the consequences of those choices. In every episode, Annie finds herself having to pick between different options: Does she assert herself and insist to Gabe she cover a story for the newspaper or does she revert to her old ways and hope he will one day ask her to write? Does she give Ryan the boot or make it work with him? Does she explore other relationship possibilities or... try to make it work with Ryan? Watching Annie navigate through her life is something we can all relate to but Bryant's performance makes the character feel real and lived-in. The comedy's tone also helps; it's not a happy-go-lucky and over-the-top show that celebrates body positivity in a cloying way. "Shrill" is cool and laidback (with helpful direction from Carrie Brownstein, who helms a few episodes) while exploring its issues in an honest and authentic way. It's always in support of Annie even when she's at her worst.

One of the major plots in "Shrill" involves Annie being trolled after an article she writes goes viral. The anonymous freak writes incredibly vile comments about her, involving her looks, weight, and even personal family information. The troll's hurtful remarks hang over Annie and that anxiety and tension is the looming voice that sometimes impacts the decisions she's making. Things come to a head with the bully in the back half of the season and it resolves neatly albeit hilariously. Though Season 1 feels like a closed circle, "Shrill" is set up nicely for a second season, should Hulu grant it one. Annie, in the midst of self-discovery and self-acceptance, can be a new person next time we see her. "Shrill" is a smartly written show and Bryant's turn as a lead performer alone should earn the comedy to return so we can see where it goes next.

Pop Culturing

This story is part of our special report titled Pop Culturing. Want to read more? Here's the full list.

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