“It would be nice to see Shrill go even further in embracing an intersectional approach to its depiction of ‘fat’ women.”
Episodes Reviewed: Season 1
Creators: Aidy Bryant 👩🏼🇺🇸, Alexandra Rushfield 👩🏼🇺🇸, and Lindy West 👩🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Aidy Bryant 👩🏼🇺🇸 (developed by), Alexandra Rushfield 👩🏼🇺🇸 (developed by), Lindy West 👩🏼🇺🇸 (developed by), Dave King 👨🏼🇺🇸 (2 eps), Craig DiGregorio 👨🏼🇺🇸 (1 ep), Sudi Green 👩🏽🇺🇸 (1 ep), and Samantha Irby 👩🏾🇺🇸🌈 (1 ep)
Reviewed by Mimi 👩🏻🇺🇸
Hulu’s Shrill joins the latest crop of millennial-targeted sitcoms that seek to humorously capture our generation’s current moment from a pointed perspective. Parks and Recreation alum Alexandra Rushfield combined forces with two other women: feminist writer Lindy West, whose bestselling memoir serves as the show’s source material, and comedian Aidy Bryant from Saturday Night Live. Together, they collaborated on a story that feels at once deeply personal and yet relatable to many. Broken out into six short episodes, the narrative dips into the life Annie (Bryant), a single, 30-something aspiring journalist who lives in Portland, Oregon. (Appropriately, Portlandia’s Carrie Brownstein directs one of the episodes.)
The series abounds with self-consciously zeitgeisty topics, from hook-up culture to wellness obsession to internet trolling. A reflection of the times can also be seen in the scoreboard keeping track of the writers with the most clicks at the online publication where Annie works.
The show manages to produce some interesting nuggets of insight on these otherwise well-trodden subjects thanks to its feminist lens and brutally honest examinations of fat-shaming. Although the writing can feel over-explained, even impeding the dialogue at times, Annie’s tirades arguably mirror the inner monologues that constantly race through women’s minds—monologues that we wish we could say aloud, as she does.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
Women talk to each other, starting with Annie and her best friend Fran (Lolly Adefope) who both wholeheartedly love and support each other. In the very first episode when Annie confronts an unwanted pregnancy, Fran is there for her. But moments of disagreement also illustrate the healthy limitations of adult friendships, as exemplified by Fran’s refusal to perform emotional labor when she observes her roommate going through a “selfish phase.” In this case, Annie becomes absorbed in her repeated attempts to remake her hook-up buddy Ryan (Luka Jones)—an overgrown manchild—into the boyfriend she so desperately yearns for. It’s clear to Fran, as well as the audience, that this isn’t modern love to be championed. By asserting her boundaries, Fran compels Annie to be responsible for her own growth and pushes back against the trope of codependent female friendships previously celebrated in other shows like Broad City and Girls.
Indeed, Annie flails not only in her romantic life but also her career. At work, she struggles to win over the publication’s misanthropic editor-in-chief, Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell). When she finally does land an assignment to review the lunch buffet at a strip club, she ends up turning the piece into a message about female empowerment, much to the chagrin of her boss. To her surprise, he decides to publish it, and Annie enjoys her first taste of internet fame. But her moment of triumph is short-lived in the era of hateful, anonymous commenters and internet trolls. It’s an experience many women writers know all too well. West wrote about her decision to leave Twitter after the nonstop barrage of fat jokes and rape threats she received.
A United Nations report found that women are 27 times more likely to be abused online than men. Shrill exposes the human side, along with the very real emotional and psychological cost, behind that statistic.
None of the episodes in the first season deals with race head on. The show does attempt to present an inclusive Portland, despite its notorious history for being the “whitest city in America.” There’s certainly a lot of potential for characters of color to become central figures in the narrative and thus help enrich the storytelling. As a confident plus-size woman, Fran acts as a foil to Annie who so obviously suffers from low self-esteem. Yet, as Mackenzie MacDade warns, she tends to fall into the trap of the Sassy Black Friend.
Annie’s colleague Amadi (Ian Owens), another Black character, could also afford to be more fleshed out. Their banter at work borders on flirtation, suggesting that he may become a love interest in the future. And that would certainly complicate matters since he’s currently married. But within the confines of the first season, he mainly provides a sounding board for Annie’s problems.
Similar to the treatment of POC characters, LGBTQ characters are quite visible, if only in supporting roles. Interestingly, more attention is paid to Fran’s dating life than anything else about her. Women come and go from the house, reminiscent of the hypersexual portrayal of queer women on other straight-centric shows like Younger and Grown-ish.
Assuming the part of the antagonist, Gabe frequently lobs veiled criticisms about Annie’s weight as much as he does about her journalistic skills. He represents an interesting critique of the gay community, in which the power dynamic continues to favor privileged white men. Leaning into a certain stereotype, Gabe is also the type of middle-aged white man who dates a younger Asian man.
Responsible for much of the comedic relief at the office, Gabe’s assistant Ruthie is played by Patti Harrison, a trans woman of color. Her identity is never openly discussed, but there’s also something to be said about allowing her character to be defined by her personality first and foremost.
Bonus for Body Positivity: +1.00
Shrill’s writers aren’t afraid to use the word “fat” and much like Annie herself, are intent on destigmatizing it. Annie, her body, and society’s frustrating sense of entitlement to judge it form a kind of triangulated relationship. We see how fatphobia permeates nearly every aspect of her life: from the coded and not-so-coded concerns about her “health” that everyone, including total strangers, expresses to her mother’s constant push for her to go on a diet to the ways in which she beats herself up. “Honey, you're being so mean to yourself,” Fran says to Annie during one of her particularly down moments.
In Episode 4, Annie attends a Fat Babe Pool Party, where she and the audience are treated to a celebration of fat bodies. Here, we see that not every full-figured woman is as insecure as Annie is. So in addition to highlighting diverse body types, Shrill reveals a range of experiences.
Mediaversity Grade: B+ 4.44/5
Recently greenlit for a second season, it would be nice to see Shrill go even further in embracing an intersectional approach to its depiction of fat women. So far, the show succeeds in giving a voice to white women like Annie and Aidy Bryant, and Lindy West. But it’s about time that everyone, including Black women, were heard, too.