Shrill is an American comedy-drama television series based off the non-fiction book Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by American writer Lindy West who has made a career for herself writing about feminism, popular culture and the fat acceptance movement. West wrote Shrill as a memoir, where she used her sharp wit and humour to tackle topics like periods, abortion, sexism and fat-shaming. In December 2016, Shrill was optioned to be adapted into television. The series premiered on the streaming service Hulu in the United States on 15 March 2019 starring Aidy Bryant as Annie, a young overweight woman who has struggled with her weight her whole life, and often feels like she is not good enough to be successful and happy in life due to her size. Over time, Annie begins to realise that she is just as good as anyone else and shouldn't let other people talk down to her just because she is fat. This review will contain spoilers for seasons one and two of Shrill.
Annie has professional ambitions to be a successful writer
I was intrigued with the premise of Shrill. I really liked the idea of a show that presented an unflinching, honest view of a fat woman's attempts to make it in the modern world. In season one, I fell in love with Aidy Bryant and her performance as Annie right from the start. I found Annie to be a very relatable character. We see her encounter strangers who criticise her weight and express concern for her health. Her mother constantly criticises her weight and encourages her to diet. She gets pressured to join up to fitness classes to lose weight and gets compared to Rosie O'Donald. Annie tries her best not to be bothered when people act like this around her and to always smile and be nice. She is afraid if she speaks her mind and tells people the truth, no one will like her. There are times when you can see cracks appear in her adorable smile and how exhausted she is on the inside.
I really liked the strong body-positive message that was in season one. There is a scene in one of the episodes where Annie and her best friend Fran go to a pool party just for fat women. Annie turns up at the party wearing leggings and a long shirt because she wasn't sure she would feel comfortable enough stripping down and showing off her body in a swimsuit. To her amazement, the entire place is filled with women of all different shapes and sizes wearing all sorts of swimsuits, happily enjoying themselves in the sun. Annie eventually feels comfortable enough to strip off her clothes and dive into the pool herself. In a raw and powerful moment, we see her swim through the water, enjoying herself and her body, without a care in the world. In the same episode, we see flashbacks to when Annie was a teenager. Her mother tries to get her to go swimming with the family, but she refuses. Later in the episode, teenage Annie sneaks out to the pool by herself and goes for a swim when she is confident no one will be around to see her in her swim suit. The contrast between her younger self, who was too anxious to swim around her family, and the older Annie who felt comfortable enough to join in at the pool party, really resonated with me.
My biggest criticism about Shrill is how Annie's relationship with her boyfriend Ryan (played by Luka Jones) develops. I can't express enough how much I hated Ryan. When we are first introduced to him in season one, he only contacts Annie when he wants to have sex with her. He isn't interested in a serious relationship and makes her sneak in and out of the back door of his flat so his roommates will not meet her. He also insists on not using protection when they sleep together. Annie is so desperate for him to like her, she thinks if she is nice enough and smiles enough, he will eventually want more out of their relationship. In an episode in season one, Annie has a pregnancy scare, after Ryan refuses again to use protection. She decides to get an abortion and later breaks up with Ryan.
I thought this was being set up to be a great character development moment for her - and then she takes him back after Ryan begs her to give him another chance. I was so frustrated. I thought this was supposed to be a show about a woman being empowered to make the right choices. After getting back together again, Ryan does try to be a better boyfriend. Annie is happy at first and tries to convince her friends that Ryan has learnt from his mistakes and is treating her a lot better. And this is true to an extent. He takes her on dates and introduces her to his friends and lets her use the front door. But his efforts only go so far. He refuses to get a job, acts like a child and cheats on her with another woman because he didn't think they were exclusive.
Fran confronts Annie's off-again on-again boyfriend Ryan
Annie breaks up him with again after that, but then falters, and later eventually agrees to take him back for a second time. In season two, Ryan and Annie's relationship develops even further, and so did my dislike of them both. I found their relationship... so gross. Ryan struggles to be a supportive, adult partner for Annie. He doesn't fit in with her professional life or understand her ambitions. He doesn't want to grow up and get a proper job. He doesn't dress well. He needs a haircut. And he encourages her to do reckless things like have sex with him at her workplace. It takes Annie far too long to realise that she is dating a man-child and that she is tired of feeling like his mother. In the season two finale, she ends it with him completely, after she realises that she is only with him because her opinion of herself is so low she thinks no one else will want to date her because she is fat.
I was happy when she finally ended it with him but I was irritated it took her so long to end it for good. I can understand her having a low opinion of herself due to her weight, that's relatable. What disturbs me is how toxic her relationship with Ryan was and how it was played out for laughs and drama. Shrill is a good show with a lot of potential but it has some flaws. It markets itself as a show about a fat woman, which on one hand, is great. We need more shows about fat people and their experiences. At the same time, I felt the show focused a bit too much on her weight and her insecurities. Annie is defined by her weight and that makes me sad. I want to see her become more confident and realise that she is much more than just a fat woman.
Clearly based on how true life really is for so many not tall, not skinny, not long-legged, not naturally bouncy flowing locks, and definutely not an airbrushed 13 yr old in fashion magazine types!
Perhaps watching this will "wake up" more females who are living (existing) in exactly the same dreadful life situation.
One hopes the males would watch.and attempt to improve themselves (even shave!!), but we won't hold breath for that miracle.
I think it will resonate with quite a few ......