“Shrill” Gives Us a Polished, Pink Celebration of Real Life

I must admit that I have been waiting for “Shrill” since Hulu announced it would turn Lindy West’s book of the same title into a six-episode show in early August. I stayed awake until midnight on March 15 to stream the show as soon as Hulu put it online. With six short episodes — none longer than half an hour — I cruised through the show over the weekend, and it’s all I want to talk about.

In her first scripted lead in a TV series, Aidy Bryant plays the deeply loveable, endearingly adorable yet cringingly insecure Annie. She’s a twenty-something striving to make it as a writer and figure out the whole life thing, a character who is based off the experiences of West, Bryant and the other writers of the show.

As a sensory experience, “Shrill” is an absolute delight. It pops with colors, from the pastels of the flower shop Annie wanders into to the vivid teal of the pool she dips her toes in on a “Fat Babe” pool party assignment.

Throughout the show, the characters are all clad in bright hues, bold earrings and unapologetic patterns. The wardrobe itself demands mention, for it was nearly all custom-made for the show (unfortunately for those of us longing for a version of Annie’s closet), and it highlights an issue that Bryant herself has been passionate about for some time now — that plus-size fashion can, and should, be trendy, cute and wearable.

In the show, her character Annie touches on this, saying, “Everything is either like a big Indiana Walmart sack or it’s like some cutesy shit covered in Eiffel Tower postage stamps.” In a 2017 profile in The Cut, Bryant herself said, “[In fashion shoots], the other girls had racks of clothes to choose from and were wearing these thousand-dollar dresses, and I had two sacks or like one matronly mother-of-the-bride dress. Those were the first times where I was like, ‘Something is different here and this isn’t fair.’ … And it lit a fucking fire in me.”

Though celebrated as a show that centers the experiences of plus-sized women (praise it rightly deserves), it is more than a show about body positivity; it is a show about self-love in all of its facets. It is not just a story about a fat girl; it is a story about a budding writer, a woman who is navigating what her father’s cancer means, and a millenial trying to keep her head above water when it comes to dating, socializing and standing up to a condescending boss. In an interview with Man Repeller’s Haley Nahman, Bryant explained, “You don’t have to be plus-sized to watch it and be like, ‘That’s my story.’ We made an effort to make it pretty universal as far as just being a woman around our age who has come up in this you-can-do-anything world, but also maybe hasn’t found a way to put that into practice.”

And that’s exactly what the show does so tactfully. It’s more redeeming quality is its realness; it is full of genuine scenes like one with Annie jumping up and down, clutching her boobs because she’s taken off her bra at the end of a long day or another where Annie and her mother lie on their living room floor eating a bag of Ruffles or, my personal favorite, Annie slipping out of bed in the middle of the night to eat leftover noodles after having sex with her longtime crush.

It’s a scene set to the music of Still Woozy’s “Goodie Bag,” a song that stirs emotion in an ethereal way — creating a scene into one that I am convinced is one of the most touching on television. The scene — and the show at large — takes the everyday and romanticizes it, and it makes it so that each of us can see ourselves living out that elevated reality. Nahman titled her interview with Bryant “Aidy Bryant is You, But Famous,” and that is exactly how I feel about Annie herself; Annie is you, but with her life set to music.

It is not an immediate click though. At the show’s start, Annie’s meekness makes her a rather unlikeable character, especially in a TV landscape that has trained us to prefer bold female characters like “Broad City’s” Abbi And Ilana. However, by the second episode, we realize that her insecurities are what make her such a strong, lovable — if not initially likable — character.

She is a real person we see in ourselves, our friends and our family; she is not immediately a role model or icon of fat boldness and self-love. Rather, she’s an example of someone who’s learning to walk the path towards self-confidence and self-worth, and she’s walking right alongside us. The show’s ending drives this sense of realness; the writing is so skillful because the show ends as Annie is still in progress. There is no tidy wrap-up in the ending, where she cuts off her scumbag boyfriend or becomes completely reinstalled with self-confidence because there never is that ah-ha moment in life.

At the close, Annie achieves small victories, grows in confidence and receives the affirmation of the outside world but still is confronted with where she needs to grow, leaving us to wonder if she will. It is heartbreakingly real, and heartwarmingly, fodder for a second season.