The worst part about being a woman is having a body. It's difficult, even for the most conventionally beautiful women, to scroll through Instagram or look at a magazine and think "I'm completely satisfied with my body and feel no pressure whatsoever to change it. I feel free, and not locked in a flesh prison."
Though, of course, it's more difficult for fat or plus-sized women to walk through the world, with friends, family, and strangers constantly giving advice on how they can lose weight, get healthier, or be prettier. Writer Lindy West made a name for herself, at least in part, due to her influential writing on fat acceptance and body positivity, starting with her work at the Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger (where she had some public feuds with editorial director Dan Savage). Now, her 2016 memoir Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman has been adapted into a Hulu original series, starring Aidy Bryant as a young woman managing work and dating while also trying to navigate a world that wants to shrink her body.
Annie Easton (Bryant) is a twentysomething trying to make it as a writer while toiling away as assistant calendar editor for The Weekly Thorn, a fictional alt-weekly in Portland. She desperately pitches stories her overly bitchy editor Gabe (a Dan Savage surrogate played by John Cameron Mitchell) hates. She lives with her loyal best friend Fran (Lolly Adefope) and sleeps with/dates Ryan (Luka Jones), a mostly terrible but sometimes sweet dirtbag Fran calls "an ignorant bag of expired meat."
The series begins with Annie realizing she's pregnant, which she thought was impossible since she took Plan B, until a pharmacist informs her the pill is ineffective for women over 175 pounds. It's one of the many ways, intentional or not, that the world is simply not built to accept people of a certain size. When Annie makes a joke in a coffee shop, a stranger compares her to Rosie O'Donnell, though they neither look nor act alike. Her mom buys her an unappetizing diet meal plan. Her boy toy Ryan asks Annie to leave out the backdoor so his roommates won't see her.
But the worst comments come from Gabe, who implies she would work better if she lost weight and gets excited when she has an online troll who calls her a pig and tells her to die. In the real story, West published a piece on The Stranger's website titled "Hello, I Am Fat" (Annie writes a piece with the same headline) in retort to rude comments Savage made in his column Savage Love about fat people. The two have supposedly made nice since, but the heartless, two-dimensional depiction of Gabe might say otherwise.
Rude comments aside, Annie's world is generally sunny, literally and figuratively. It was fun watching TV's optimistic version of an alt-weekly. The biggest inaccuracy is how bright and open The Weekly Thorn office is. The Pittsburgh City Paper office, for example, gets next to no sunlight and has roughly three functioning light bulbs. There also seems to be no indication of a struggling print industry, which, in 2019, is a bit laughable. But then again, Annie reviews food at a strip club, which CP has done.
Bryant herself is one of the most likable people to appear onscreen, whether it’s Shrill or her home-base of SNL. She’s fun, funny, and instantly feels like a friend. Annie’s problems are solved a little too easily, and generally, the show could have sharper teeth. Aside from all the bullshit Annie deals with, the show mostly feels like a hug. When Annie attends a “Fat Babe Pool Party,” it’s a pure and invigorating celebration. I’ve never seen that many bodies like that, on TV, in swimsuits, having a great time.
Shrill. Starring Aidy Bryant. Streaming on Hulu Fri., March 15.