After much anticipation, Shrill—the Hulu comedy based on former Mercury contributor Lindy West’s hilarious bestseller of the same name—will be available to stream on March 15. And, surprising no one, it’s super funny. It’s also full of real-looking bodies and people of color. Actually, my first impression of the Portland-set Shrill was that it makes our city seem way more diverse than it actually is. But hey, it’s a comedy! It takes place in a world we want to live and laugh in, not the crappy one we have.
Written by West, Ali Rushfield, and Aidy Bryant, and produced by some of those responsible for Portlandia, Shrill’s color-blocked credit sequences and eccentric soundtrack seem like an obvious attempt to create a woman-focused, West Coast-set Master of None, but the show also wears Portlandia’s bright, airy aesthetic. (Again, it’s a selective Portland: I got dizzy trying to orient myself in the disjointed geography of all the recognizable Portland landmarks.)
Shrill is at its best—and its most real—when it addresses all the bullshit that fat people go through in their day-to-day lives, including the guilt and grief that often comes from their very own families.
This also isn’t Shrill the book, turned into a show. For starters, its main character, Annie (Bryant), starts out as a downright doormat. She’s the secret girlfriend of Ryan (Luka Jones), a chef-kiss-perfect portrait of an underemployed stoner Portland guy who Annie’s roommate, Fran (Lolly Adefope), describes as a “normcore Ted Kaczynski.” Annie’s also a calendar blurb writer at the Weekly Thorn—a paper whose logo strongly resembles the Mercury’s—where she dreams of writing bigger, smarter, and braver pieces about sex positivity and body acceptance. Too bad her boss, Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell, a venomous delight) foils Annie’s early attempts at writing articles, instead trying to get her to ride a bike around Sauvie Island, offering an unscientific argument that fat bodies are costly for the company’s health insurance.
(Full disclosure: While some of Shrill’s creators visited the Mercury offices for research [including Aidy! Eee!], I am journalistically required to state that Shrill is not an accurate reflection of what it’s like to work at the Mercury. The editors and writers on Shrill have way more adventures! And unlike Annie’s coworkers, none of mine have ever invited me to a mini-horse dressage competition! You jerks!)
Shrill is at its best—and its most real—when it addresses all the bullshit that fat people go through in their day-to-day lives, including the guilt and grief that often comes from their very own families. (A few interactions between Annie and her mother, played by Julia Sweeney, are right on and raw, but still really funny.) But when Shrill stumbles, it’s in its attempts to create some sort of magical body-positivity: When Annie attends a glamorous pool party that turns into a dream-like music video, the show slips from bold, observant comedy into tame, feel-good fantasy.
On the other hand, Shrill’s sex scenes are great, because they make the too-rare acknowledgment that people of all body sizes still fuck on the regular. And it’s cool to see Shrill portray Annie as a woman with an actual, normal sex drive.
One of the great thrills of Shrill, the book, is seeing West decimate her bullies and trolls with her ruthless wit and charm. It’s disappointing that particular superpower hasn’t made it into Shrill, the show, just yet, especially as Annie limps through the beginning as a too-nice “nice girl.” But West didn’t establish her voice or her observations overnight, and neither, one assumes, will Annie. I’m excited to see where Shrill will go.