Shrill Review: Plenty of Promise for New Hulu Series

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Aidy Bryant takes her first starring role on a show with Hulu's Shrill, a fictional adaptation of Lindy West's much-lauded book of essays titled Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman.

While I haven't read the book, I know of West's reputation as a take no prisoners, confident voice in American culture.

That's why I was surprised to discover Hulu's Shrill doesn't inspire confidence and Bryant's Annie seems more a prisoner of her self-esteem issues than a loud, body-positive voice.

Aidy Bryant as Annie

Of course, Shrill consists only of six half-hour episodes, and by the time we reach the end, Annie has come a long way.

But as a woman who has struggled with her weight as I've gotten older, a lot of what Annie faces made me cringe instead of lauding her choices, as I would have expected from a series based on West's material.

During the first episode, a lot is accomplished to lend credence to the idea that we are our weight. Annie's struggles are real, and I can feel her annoyance as she bends down in a dress, inserting both arms into the front of it and stretches it with all her might.

Even when you buy clothes that are expected to fit your body, there is still an urge inside a fat girl (Annie doesn't shy away from the F word) to alter her clothes, even momentarily, to hide what's inside.

Walking Down the Street

And it's evident early that Annie isn't suffering from a lack of friends or suitors. She has a roommate and best friend she's known since childhood, Fran, who, like Annie, is not skinny. Unlike Annie, though, it doesn't seem to permeate her every waking moment.

While Annie eats a noxious-looking thin mean (she needs a glass of water to gag it down), Fran shakes her head and grabs what she wants to eat from the refrigerator.

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Annie has a cool job as a writer at a local Portland paper that gives her the opportunity to do crazy things like visit a nearby strip club to review their all-you-can-eat buffet. It's not going to turn heads, but you get the impression she's not been at the publication very long.

Her boss (John Cameron Mitchell) is a gay dweeb who seems to want to make it his mission to force Annie to his taste (skinny) by way of crass comments and debilitating exercises he tries to gloss over with a team-building bent.

An Insecure Boss

She also has a significant ally at the paper who urges her to use her voice and take command of her role at the publication.

Annie's parents send her mixed signals of support in her job while always hoping she finds something better suited, and their belief that if she were only a bit thinner, things would come more naturally for her.

Finally, there is Ryan (Luka Jones), the guy Aidy is, for a better word, seeing.

He's a thin pot-head with several roommates who sleeps with Annie frequently as long as she heads to his house (usually after hours), and escapes through the back door as if she's not suitable for his daily existence.

Sleeping with the Man

There are surprises along the way, and Annie heeds the good advice she hears to her betterment.

When Annie tries to walk on a crosswalk, she gets deterred by the passing of cars paying her no mind. In the meantime, another large woman, stunning in a blazing red outfit, struts out in front of her mindless of the vehicles waiting for her to cross. She owns her actions in a way Annie finds mesmerizing.

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But for the most part, Annie is sidelined by her ability to take control and overcome her insecurities. She continues to frequent Ryan's place even when she discovers he has other people on the side after telling Annie how important she was to his life.

She makes strides at the paper by following her instinct and not backing down to pressure to curtail her voice, but for every article she writes about owning her existence and loving her body, Annie makes another move that she ultimately regrets.

Dance Your Troubles Away

And while Annie doesn't have to be a likable protagonist, her inability to see things from the perspective of others makes it difficult to want her to do as well as she thinks she deserves.

Empathy and understanding the points of view of others is as important to growth as it is to gain confidence in your body. But when another person as eager as Annie attempts to put themselves out there with the hope of making a new friend, perhaps, the plea isn't recognized, and it's almost trounced over, instead.

Annie almost seems as if she believes she's alone in the world and in her pain, despite a reckoning at the publication that proves otherwise. She unhealthily focuses on the negative when the positive far outweighs it and doesn't associate her personal journey as similar to Fran's, either.

Fran is used more as background noise and support for Annie than given the weight as an honest friendship of so many years should. Annie often gets lost in what she perceives as the world putting her down, when in fact most of the others also facing body issues in the series have no such doubts.

Best Friends For the Win

What could be an honest portrayal of a young woman accepting her body and moving past the negativity others thrust upon her is more of the average fish out of water story.

There are so many other women featured throughout the six episodes who have bonded together and feel no restraint from the size of their bodies that Annie's struggle loses some of its oomph.

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It doesn't take too long to realize that it's not Annie's body size that's the problem, but that she's a little too self-absorbed and not very nice, and that's the crux of any perceived issues more than what she believes are body-related.

The fact is that people who don't like you or wish you ill will for any reason will grab onto whatever weapon they think will sting the most to hurt you. In Annie's case, an online troll focuses on her weight when he gets nasty.

Family First

It's an obvious sticking point for Annie, so those who disagree with her views use it for harm in much the same way others use race, religion, sexual orientation or myriad other topics to poke the bees nest.

Shrill has a lot to work with should it go forward to a second season, but it needs to pull back on the emphasis of Annie as a lone wolf.

Aidy Bryant and the initial focus on owning her body might bring viewers to the door, but to keep them around more characters need to be actively involved, and Annie needs to step outside herself to let them into her world.

Shrill premieres on Hulu Friday, March 15.


Editor Rating: 3.0 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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