Why Shrill should be your next box set
Bonkers the dog on magic mushrooms10
Helen Archer | On 04, Jan 2020
After premiering in the US in March 2019, this much-talked about series finally got a screening in the UK in December 2019, just as a trailer for the second season was making its rounds. Based on Lindy West’s collection of writing, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, it stars Aidy Bryant as Annie, an up-and-coming writer from Portland, Oregon, working her way up the career ladder at fictional website The Weekly Thorn.
While the marketing of the show suggested broad comedy, this is more bittersweet than sugary, providing wry smiles rather than belly-laughs – which is no bad thing. Much has been made of the fatphobia and body-shaming themes, and although the series opens with a gym bunny humiliating Annie with thoughtless and casual cruelty, and the series follows Annie as her self-esteem grows through self-acceptance, it is also a sensitive look at the many difficulties of navigating your 20s, all done with a lightness of touch which belies the real emotion underpinning it.
Bryant is glorious as Annie – wholesome, insecure, and entirely relatable – and she is surrounded by a cast of characters who both subvert and support her. Luka Jonas plays her slacker boyfriend Ryan, who spends his time hanging around his house making terrible podcasts with his buddies, and sneaks Annie out the back door after their sex sessions. This initially one-dimensional and unsympathetic character gradually blossoms, like Annie, into someone completely human – not least during the sublime episode where, in solidarity with Annie’s dog Bonkers, who has accidentally ingested some magic mushrooms, Ryan takes a bonding LSD trip with him.
Lolly Adefope plays Fran, Annie’s laconic yet caring housemate who tries to convince Annie of her worth, while simultaneously treating her own series of girlfriends fairly badly. Annie’s parents, who live nearby and are going through their own problems, and her workmates at The Daily Thorn all contribute to this real universe of people with their own small story arcs. Each character – with perhaps the exception of some co-workers – manages to convey their own neuroses with a concise economy through some top-notch writing.
The series begins with short vignettes, before fully hitting its stride around the halfway mark, by which time the characters have established themselves with brevity and wit, and Annie’s universe becomes complete. Shrill doesn’t portray Annie as a saint – indeed, as the series goes on, and as her self-esteem flourishes, we see she is capable of self-absorption and a carelessness to the feelings of those around her. Which is all to the programme’s credit: she becomes a fully-rounded character whom we care about, rather than a paragon of virtue. The only negative is that the series is so short, and feels somewhat unfinished. But that only leaves you wanting more. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long until we can be reunited with Annie’s world.
Shrill is available on BBC iPlayer. Season 1 is available until November 2021. Season 2 is available until January 2022. Season 3 is available until May 2022.