Hulu’s Shrill Is The Superhero Origin Story Fat Girls Have Been Waiting For
Aidy Bryant shines in the comedy series based on Lindy West's bestselling book.
If you’re a fat girl in film or television, your narratives are limited. You’re the “before” character of a now skinny woman, seen only in derogatory flashbacks. Or maybe you’re the diet-obsessed tragic figure whose life revolves solely around her weight and her sadness. Or perhaps you’re the sassy fat friend relegated to lines like “you go, girl!” What about fat men, you may ask. Oh, they can do anything, play anyone, and star opposite the most beautiful women in the world. But I bet you knew that already.
It’s a dismal landscape, and as popular culture makes tentative stumbles towards inclusivity and diversity, that same courtesy is rarely extended to plus-size women. Until now. Shrill, a new comedy series from Hulu, is based on the bestselling book Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman, by journalist, author, and all around badass Lindy West.
The series, executive produced by Lorne Michaels and Elizabeth Banks, stars Aidy Bryant (Saturday Night Live) as Annie Easton, a staffer for a Portland-based alt-weekly paper, who wants to be a journalist. Unfortunately, Annie’s hopes and dreams are hampered by a savagely harsh boss Gabe (Hedwig and the Angry Inch‘s John Cameron Mitchell, always a welcome presence), an irresponsible fuckboi of a boyfriend Ryan (Luka Jones), and low self-esteem thanks to a lifetime of being fat.
Shrill perfectly distills the experience of being fat in America (or most places, really). The everyday micro-aggressions, the cutting comments, the “suggestions” from well-meaning family members about how to lose weight. Annie can’t even get a cup of coffee without being accosted by an aggressive trainer telling her “There is a small person inside of you dying to get out,” or visit her parents without her mother (SNL‘s Julia Sweeney) crowing about feeling full after eating six almonds.
The pilot episode sees Annie finally snapping after a lifetime of dealing with subpar treatment from everyone in her life. She resolves to stand up for herself and stop giving a fuck about what other people think of her. This is not a weight loss inspirational journey. This is a woman fed up with her status quo and ready to change the way she deals with the world – not her weight. In a pivotal episode, Annie rants “It’s a fucking mind prison, you know, that every fucking woman everywhere has been programmed to believe, and I’ve wasted so much time and money and energy, for what? I’m fat. I’m fucking fat. Hello, I’m fat.”
As Annie stumbles towards enlightenment, she is joined by her roommate and best friend Fran (Lolly Adefope), a British lesbian stylist who is wickedly funny and honest. She also has the support of her work husband Amadi (Ian Owens), and her jazz musician dad who is undergoing cancer treatment, played with hippy verve by Daniel Stern.
Bryant shines in the role, leaning on her impressive comedic skills as well as a soulful depth and drama that shows she’s far more talented than SNL gives her credit for. The show feels refreshingly revolutionary, simply for the fact that it shows us a plus-size woman enjoying her damn life.
Annie enjoys sex, has romantic relationships, and experiences successes and failures on the job. In short, she’s treated like any other nuanced protagonist. In the series’ best episode, “Pool,” Annie and Fran attend a fat babe pool party. The party is lovingly shot, in bright pastels and rich colors. The women at the party are dancing, laughing, swimming and flirting. They’re having a fucking blast, and it’s a joy to watch a reticent Annie embrace the spirit, shed her clothes, and dive into the pool.
The only complaint I have about the series? At just six episodes, it’s over in a flash. I could have spent several more episodes in Annie’s world, and hopefully the show will garner a second, longer season. Also, let’s make Fat Babe Pool Parties a thing, yeah?
Shrill premieres Friday, March 15th on Hulu.
(image: Allyson Riggs/Hulu)
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