Aidy Bryant Captures Modern Anxieties About Life and Body Image in Hulu’s ‘Shrill’
Annie from Hulu’s new dramedy “Shrill” is fighting for us all. She embodies many of our modern anxieties about seeking a place in this hectic world, while also being one of the most self-conscious generations in many a blue moon. The heart and soul of this sharp and biting show is Aidy Bryant, who plays the character with an endearing insecurity hiding a special strength within. If there is any justice in the world of binge watching, she will soon become an icon.
Annie (Bryant) is just another wanderer in our Millennial moment, working at a publication run by a pompous “woke” editor named Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell) who refuses to give her a shot at actually writing. Annie is also large and is self-conscious about it. She regularly hooks up with an aspiring podcaster named Ryan (Luka Jones), who is also quite insensitive and always asks Annie to leave out the backdoor to avoid his roommates. Annie gets moral support from her best friend and roommate Fran (Lolly Adefope) and her nice, sometimes aloof parents. Things begin to take a different tone when Annie discovers she’s pregnant. Ryan ignores her calls so she goes and gets an abortion (with Fran there to back her up). But Annie still confronts Ryan about his behavior, and it gives her a new impetus to also demand from Gabe to start writing for the publication. He sends her on her first assignment to a buffet/strip club. For Annie the experience of getting to write is liberating, but she must still deal with accepting herself, surviving men like Ryan and finding genuine personal freedom.
“Shrill” is that rare show that treats its subject matter with a sobering, but funny edge. Annie is like a conduit for all the things millennials endure in this excessively superficial era. It’s refreshing to see characters that are easily relatable simply because of how they live and interact. Everyone has to live with roommates, relationships are casual experiences and people don’t want to be “tied down.” The show is based on the memoirs of the same name by Lindy West, which is a hilarious but insightful chronicle of life in a contemporary America where we claim to not judge by looks, but indeed do. From the first episode the series pulls no punches. An exercise freak friend of Annie keeps insisting she can help her work out, and when Annie finally can’t take it anymore she gets a mean “fat bitch” yelled in her face. The most painfully well-written character is Ryan, who has the beard, wardrobe and insensitive MO of the contemporary American male in his late 20s or early 30s still living like a 17-year-old. He treats Annie like a masturbatory object, making her have sex “raw dog” style (no need to explain the origin of the term). When she tells him about her abortion he simply reacts with a, “oh that’s good news!” The plot thickens when she finally tells him off but he crawls back, claiming he actually does like her and will make the attempt at dating like normal people. Yet dating Ryan is quite the chore. He goes to bars and never leaves tips, and doesn’t bother to tell Annie during a date that his co-podcasters will join them (and then instigate an infantile fight over how to name their Alcatraz podcast).
But the key theme is how for Annie the real hurtle is being conscious of her appearance. The show swings from endearing moments like a stripper telling her she has a great body and should be the one bossing men around, to piercing heartbreak when Annie tells Fran she gave in to Ryan’s whims because it simply felt good to be wanted, in particular when you never think it’s possible. One fantastic scene that says everything visually comes when Annie stops at the corner of a street, she tells the driver to keep going but they don’t budge, so hesitantly tries to step forward, but then a voluptuous blonde steps forward and walks across the street without stopping to think. It gives Annie the needed push to cross herself and tread without fear. Many episodes have magical moments like this, and as Annie struggles and grows more in her confidence, getting some hesitant praise for her writing from co-workers, there remains a beautifully subtle hint that she’s never going to be one hundred percent ok. Fran is at least that friend who also suffers her own trials, but has a stronger sense of assurance, and provides for Annie real support as opposed to just condescending or empty advice.
“Shrill” is a great show made for the here and now. It is powered by a dynamic, aching lead performance by Aidy Bryant that is heroic in just how down to earth she is in her tribulations. She talks like an actual human being. We are never as vulnerable as when we are aware of ourselves.
“Shrill” season one begins streaming March 15 on Hulu.