There is a natural temptation to compare the new Hulu series Shrill with Girls, one of its most heavily debated predecessors. Both take place in hipster enclaves -- Portland and Brooklyn, respectively -- and star white women who want to be a writers and who, when we meet them, are sleeping with men who treat them like inconvenient pieces of trash. And while much was made of Lena Dunham baring it all in her sex scenes as a woman who was not as thin as the Hollywood norm, Shrill makes its main character's relationship to her body type a central theme. That might be where the comparisons end though. Shrill is lighter than Girls -- sweeter, and more contemplative, with a healthier relationship to its black characters and an altogether different mission statement than its most obvious predecessor.
Shrill is understated but raw, with a visual language full of pastels and patterns -- perfect for a show that is itself both soft and complex. This is a show about what happens when a soft-spoken women with a kind heart learns to add a little bite to her life and let go of the shame she's been carrying around. It is a relief, too, to finally see Aidy Bryant get the starring vehicle she deserves. It's a long-time coming.
Bryant is mainly known for Saturday Night Live, which she's been a cast member of since 2012. Here she plays Annie, a woman living in Portland with her best friend Fran (Lolly Adefope) and working at a local alt-weekly newspaper. The series is based on Lindy West's memoir Shrill: Notes From A Loud Woman, though the adaptation comes from a notably quieter place. West became known to Jezebel readers and denizens of the internet as outspoken and bold, someone practiced in declaring her worth and allowing herself to take up as much damn space in the world as she pleased. Annie, on the other hand, is unsure of herself and of her own value. She's spent most of her life buying into the criticisms the world has hurled at her: that her body is too big, her ideas aren't good enough, and that she deserves whatever poor treatment her romantic partners decide to dish out. Annie's journey in the first season is grounded in gradually learning to challenge the ways she allows herself to be undermined.
The series feels like the origin story of the "loud woman" that inspired West's Twitter cred and of the source material's title. Annie grows louder with every episode. As a result, Shrill is a refreshing reminder of how fun it can be to watch somebody grow into themselves.
Episode 4 is especially joyful, as Annie attends a pool party specifically for "fat babes." She's nervous at first, but she eventually loosens up and joins in the fun, embracing a freedom and confidence she'd never really felt before. The episode -- written by New York Times bestselling humorist Samantha Irby -- is a masterclass in the ways society's judgments can chip away at us, and the catharsis that can come from learning how to let them go. Bryant is wonderful in these scenes, straddling that line between shyness and emancipation. For Annie, that manifests in moments as big as standing up to a shitty dude or as seemingly small as buying her first crop top when society insists that women with her body type shouldn't wear them.
The first season of Shrill is upsettingly short, with only six episodes total. That makes for an easy binge-watch and a nice change from the many shows that drag out their seasons for no good reason. The brevity, however, will also leave you craving more, because this show is just so pleasant, calming, and affirming that you're going to want to keep living in its world. It's the perfect way to spend three hours on a Saturday afternoon, or the ideal dosage to dole out slowly throughout the work week.
We live in a stressful world, and this is not the type of show that will stress you out. Its cast of characters -- from Annie's bitchy boss (John Cameron Mitchell), to her hot but sadly married co-worker (Ian Owens) and hapless would-be boyfriend (Luka Jones) -- deals out both humor and a lot of story potential for hypothetical future seasons. Adefope's Fran is an especially crucial part of the cast, a black queer woman best friend character who never feels reduced to that trope. She feels like she could be a breakout character all her own, and her friendship with Annie lends emotional weight to the show while also providing some of the series' funniest and most (lovingly) adversarial moments.
In its first season Shrill is solidly an adult coming of age story, anchored in the fact that for a lot of people confidence does not come ready-baked. Annie is learning to claim ownership of herself, her thoughts, her feelings, and her own body. That is an incredibly relatable journey, though if we're lucky then by Season 3 Annie herself won't give a shit if you find her likable or relatable at all.
Shrill premieres on March 15 on Hulu.