How do you tell a truly fat-positive story? Involve fat creators in its telling. Hulu’s new six-episode comedy series, Shrill, is partially based on Lindy West’s memoir of the same name, with West and series star Aidy Bryant serving as co-executive producers alongside a team that also includes Lorne Michaels and Elizabeth Banks. Bryant and West also co-wrote alongside showrunner Ali Rushfield (Friends From College), meaning that the story was developed on every level by actual fat people.
Shrill is an absolute triumph.
The series follows Bryant as Annie, a fat woman who wants what we all want: to be happy. For Annie, that means writing for the magazine where she works, despite her overbearing and fatphobic boss refusing to give her the time of day. It means asserting herself in her relationship to get the respect and adoration she deserves. And it means falling in love with herself, no matter what anyone has to say about her.
Being happy does not mean losing weight, despite her mother’s best attempts to put Annie on diets “for her health.” That, in and of itself, is a revolutionary element of this show. We rarely see fat women on screen who are allowed to be fat and happy, fat and successful, fat and multi-faceted.
Shrill presents us with a character who is deeply flawed, but not because she’s fat. Annie makes bad choices; she pursues a guy who doesn’t respect her (out of a burning desire to be desired, even if it’s not how she deserves), puts herself in danger to confront a man who hates her, and selfishly prioritizes herself over her friends on more than one occasion. Annie also makes some really good choices! She stands up for herself in the workplace, refuses to be silenced, and in one episode goes to a Fat Babe Pool Party where she gets to enjoy herself fully for what may be the first time in her life.
Annie is a character we can root for, but she’s also a character who sometimes does things that the audience won’t like. That’s a good thing. Fat characters are often entirely one-dimensional. In Shrill, not only are there multiple fat characters, but each of them seems to lead an entirely full life. We can empathize with them even when they screw up, because frankly? We’re all a little messy. Shrill embraces that, full-stop.
Plus, these fat characters are allowed to be funny, without their weight being the punchline in every joke. The humor in Shrill is the kind of humor fat audience members will appreciate, rather than cringe at — at least, that’s how this fat critic felt.
Shrill is a comedy, but it also has true-to-life moments that sometimes hurt to watch. Annie gets emotional about her weight, about the way she’s told she should feel, and about the way she sees other fat people living their lives. She gets angry when she learns that emergency contraception doesn’t work for fat people like her. She demands respect only to have her age, weight and professional experience thrown back in her face.
Given the prevalence of fat-to-thin narratives and media that centers fatness only to tear it down, Shrill is like a breath of fresh air. Bryant’s performance is stunning, as is Lolly Adefope’s performance as Annie’s done-with-her-bullshit roommate and best friend, Fran. Bryant’s and West’s influence on the writing and production is clear: this series feels like it was plucked from real life and thrown on-screen, a slice-of-life that simultaneously explores the power and the disenchantment of moving through the world while fat.
Of course, there are areas for improvement: namely, that the last five minutes of the season finale open the door to a second season, but also leave questions about Annie’s physical safety. The queer characters are either serial cheaters or fatphobic gatekeepers. We also don’t meet a single transgender person in any of Shrill‘s debut episodes. Ideally, Hulu will renew the series and open the door for more exploration of fatness in future seasons; however, the shortcomings of this first season likely could have been fixed by having a more diverse writing and production staff signed on from the jump.
Even in light of these criticisms, Shrill is still a triumph for fat representation — and it deserves a watch.
Shrill premieres on Hulu Friday, March 15.