By now, you should have had time to watch all of Hulu's Shrill. And maybe even watch it a second time. And maybe a third.
It's such a quick watch—six episodes, each under half an hour—that it's massively impressive just how much the show manages to do and address as it tells the story of Annie (Aidy Bryant), an aspiring writer who starts to take a stand against what she's been settling for.
She starts off in what we're clearly supposed to see as a sad non-relationship with a guy named Ryan (Luka Jones) who makes her sneak in and out through the back of his house so his roommates don't see her, and she won't even let him see her without a bra on. She's stuck in a low-level job with a ridiculous, fat-shaming boss where all she does is update a calendar and dream of actually being a writer. Her mom's obsessed with dieting, and Annie eats sad little pancakes from a "thin menu" meal plan before being accosted by a fitness trainer who so kindly tells her "there is a small person inside of you dying to get out."
By the end of the first episode, her non-relationship has gotten her pregnant, and she's gotten an abortion, but only after worrying this would be her only opportunity to be a mom because of what she looks like.
From there, the show goes in a lot of the directions you might expect as Annie learns to love herself and finds a guy who loves her too, and finally gets to write articles that are unexpectedly popular, and through it all, her best friend and roommate Fran (the scene-stealing Lolly Adefope) is there to support her. But the show also goes in some unexpected and much more real directions, like how by the end, she's giving Ryan another chance, despite (or maybe to go along with) all the progress she's made. As it turns out, Annie's just human, and she can find her voice all she wants, but she's never going to be perfect, and that's fine. Better than fine, in fact.
There's an almost painfully relatable quality to the show, which has earned Bryant a 2021 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, in a lot of ways, and so much of it also works so well because it's the perfect vehicle for Bryant, who most people know from her seven years on Saturday Night Live. And no, she's not leaving SNL anytime soon—she says everyone who has left before has said that when you're ready, you know, and she knows she's not ready. She was, however, ready to try something new before that day comes.
"I wasn't like sitting down trying to think of show ideas to get out of there, or anything like that," she tells E! News. "I was interested in doing something where I could write and produce, because I've been doing that at SNL, and I was like, I gotta try that outside of here before I go."
Shrill is a totally different beast from Saturday Night Live, but in smaller ways, the sketch comedy staple has been championing a lot of the same things Shrill gets to explore much more in depth. SNL just does it in music video form, whether the ladies are taking their dopey men home for the holidays to get it on in twin beds, or they're letting their parents pamper them with all types of bowls and Wifi passwords over Thanksgiving. Or, they're singing about how women have been getting harassed for hundreds of years, and how feminism has become too nuanced to sum up in a song.
SNL does in short bursts what Shrill takes on more directly, more in-depth, and more in your face, in a good way: women, and fat women especially, are just people who have dealt with a lot of crap.
Annie has had to deal with a lot of crap, even from her own self, and standing up to that crap requires her to be "1000 percent" more vulnerable than Bryant has ever had to be on SNL.
"Of course" there was fear in taking off all her clothes and doing sex scenes or just wearing her underwear on a TV show, Bryant says, "But I also felt like for as much fear as I had about doing sex scenes or acting in the way that I was, I also felt like an intense responsibility to fat women and girls and even women and girls in general that I was like, I think this will mean something to people if I can do this with integrity."
"Any time I started to freak myself out, I was like, do it for like your 14-year-old self," she continues. "Get up there and be in your underwear, or whatever. It made it easier and kind of took the pressure off me and let it be for others."
That experience of filming Shrill changed things a bit for Bryant when she headed back to SNL.
"At least on camera, I feel even more uninhibited than I did before. I just think doing a show like this, especially something that cuts so close to home—for me, a lot of these things are like, straight out of my damn life—so something about doing that kind of thing and doing it publicly and knowing people are going to see it, it's like what's the worst that could happen to me now? It makes you feel a little powerful."
The show is based on Lindy West's 2016 book Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, which was actually a memoir. But Annie is not exactly West, and she's not exactly Bryant either. She's more of a mix of the two, plus a creation of the writers' room, though Bryant says it was not like they sat down and decided who Annie would sound the most like.
"It's all kind of swirled together and becomes this person, and I think naturally because I'm the one up there doing it, it's like it is gonna fall into my voice, and it's written in a lot of my voice, so it's just sort of a natural thing," she says.
Bryant often plays a version of herself on SNL, usually and delightfully called "Lil Baby Aidy," who's not quite the same as the parts of Aidy represented in Shrill, but not not the same.
"They're all me, and I think they're different corners of my personality in some ways," she says. "That's the fun part about SNL is like you get to tap into little elements and blow them up huge, and I think this, in a weird way, is the same thing, but it's much slower. It's a lot less heightened, and I love both."
Of course, Annie's journey is a lot more personal than anything Bryant has done on SNL before, but not in the sense that it's exactly autobiographical. It's just a story she really felt she could tell.
"I didn't go into it being like, I'm going to lay out all my issues on the table for, like, public devouring," she says. "But certainly, because I wanted to write it, I knew I had to do it from a place where I knew something about what we're doing. I felt very much like I am the one who can tell this story, if that makes sense. I know how this stuff feels. I know how it feels to feel embarrassed by your stomach, or to feel like you don't fit in a chair. I know how that feels. So maybe that part of it is very personal and like, is of my own life. But it's also like, it's not. It's not my life, and it's not Lindy's life either. It's this fictionalized thing, and there's a comfort in that too."
Shrill's first season was a journey of confidence for Bryant and Annie alike, which is why it's so surprising and, in a weird way, refreshing to watch Annie's journey with goofy idiot Ryan, played by Luka Jones. You'd think that as Annie's gaining her voice and the ability to stand up to everybody who hasn't been treating her as well as she deserves, Ryan would get left in the dust. Instead, she asks him to grow with her, and he kind of does. He's still not great, but he's got a good heart, mostly.
"We kind of did that on purpose," Bryant says. "You kind of think he's gone, and he's not coming back, but I think it kind of boils down to [the fact that] confidence isn't just a switch that you flip, and that for Lindy and myself and anyone, it's an ongoing thing. It's ups and it's downs and some days are better than others…and I think in a relationship where someone makes you feel attractive, physically attractive, that can be extremely intoxicating, no matter how much you're banging your head against a wall. I think there's something relatable in the fact that like, he's not all bad, right? They do have affection and they are attracted to each other, and there's something there that can be hard to let go. So I think it's a nice vehicle to show Annie like, asking for more and testing boundaries and laying down boundaries, and we'll see where it goes."
Annie makes a ton of strides by the end of the first season and has a lot of incredible kind of "screw you" moments in the face of the people who've been tearing her down, especially about her weight. But she's still got a ways to go to figure out how this new version of herself works, and she's made a lot of people pretty mad at her along the way.
"I think that's very human," Bryant says. "That's what life is, where it's like, nobody's got it completely on lock. You have to kind of take the good with the bad. And I think especially in a moment of transition where you're trying to change yourself as a person, you're going to have missteps and you're going to backslide and kind of try a new boldness out that might hurt someone you're close to, and those kinds of things. It's learning how to do it with some kind of grace."
(This story was originally published on Friday, March 22, 2019 at 6:09 p.m. PST.)