Written by: Fiona Underhill, CC2K Staff Writer
If you don’t conform to the ‘ideal’ or ‘average’ body types that have been forced down our throats by the media for decades, it can feel such a relief when something comes along that finally makes it feel as if you are represented on screen. In the US, television is way ahead of film in this regard, giving us central protagonists (not just the friend or comedy sidekick) who deviate from this unrealistic ‘norm’ – with Girls, The Mindy Project and My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend being recent examples. Crucially, the characters of Hannah Horvath, Mindy Lahiri and Rebecca Bunch are complex, flawed and get to have sexual experiences and relationships with a wide variety of partners. There has also been the ground-breaking UK TV series My Mad Fat Diary, adapted from the memoir by Rae Earl (also available on Hulu in the US), which covered being a teenager in the 90s, mental health issues and a fat central character who got to have a romance, along with all of the other normal teenage experiences. Of course, we can still go a long way in terms of diversity, but there are encouraging signs from the world of television that a greater range of bodies will take a more central role in popular, mainstream shows.
Adapted from the memoir by Lindy West, Shrill is a new show on Hulu starring SNL’s Aidy Bryant. Bryant has had supporting roles in the aforementioned Girls, as well as movies The Big Sick and I Feel Pretty, but this is her first starring role. It follows Annie, who works at a newspaper in Portland and lives with her British roommate Fran (Lolly Adefope) and their dog Bonkers. She has a f*ck-buddy, Ryan (Luka Jones), a work-husband Amadi (Ian Owen), boss Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell) and parents played by Julia Sweeney and Daniel Stern. In the first episode, Annie has a pregnancy scare caused by Ryan’s penchant for ‘raw-dogging’ and she discovers that the morning-after pill is ineffective on those above a certain weight. Ryan lives with his brother Mike (Tommy Snider) and friend Angus (Sean Tarjyoto) and so of course, when three men get together, they have to form a podcast. Ryan does not treat Annie nicely, including making her use the rear-entrance (not a euphemism) to his apartment. In episode 3, Fran’s dishy brother Lamar (Akemnji Ndifornyen) comes to stay and I think we’re all hoping that if there more seasons, he makes a welcome return. The episode which has everyone buzzing – and rightly so – is episode 4. It features a Pool Party which Annie shows up to in a fully buttoned-up shirt and jeans. As she sees so many fat women in bathing suits and bikinis having fun, dancing and being free, she starts to relax and join in – this scene is truly inspiring, empowering and life-affirming.
One of the best aspects of Shrill is the costumes – Annie gets to wear colorful, retro-style dresses – one particular highlight is a glitzy rainbow sequin mini-dress, which Annie wears to a work party. Unfortunately, as costume designer Amanda Needham explained in an interview with Vulture, Annie’s clothes are more aspirational than realistic, in terms of what is on offer to ‘plus-size’ women. Most of the clothes were either made from scratch or altered, meaning that they do look extremely well tailored, structured and flattering. Hopefully by demonstrating an idealized version of ‘plus-size’ clothing, it proves what looks good and what is in-demand from what makes up the majority of American women. Another notable outfit is a stunning red jumpsuit, not worn by Annie, but by a mysterious woman who she sees on the street and starts to follow, simply because she has such power and allure. This character embodies the confidence that can be brought from wearing a well-fitted, sexy outfit and she passes this self-esteem onto Annie.
The acting is, of course, a major strength of Shrill, which leads to many heart-breaking moments. Annie’s relationship with her Mother will strike a chord with many and Bryant conveys, with the subtlest facial shifts, how hurt she is by her Mother’s attitude. The writing, not just of Annie’s relationship with her body, but also with her workplace is authentic, obviously due to it being based on West’s own experiences. Annie has been working at the newspaper for two years, pitching her boss with ideas and coming up against a brick wall. When she does eventually break through with an article, she immediately has to deal with a troll in the comments section – very much a pervasive aspect of modern-day journalism for women. The only negative aspect of Shrill so far is that there are only six episodes. It will certainly leave people begging for more and let’s hope they come quickly. It is a cliche to say “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry” – but it is absolutely true in this case. A well written, well acted, funny and heart-breaking show which will prove highly relatable for many, many women.
Author: Fiona Underhill, CC2K Staff Writer
Brit living in Southern California.
Former teacher of Media and Film Studies.
Current film writer for jumpcutonline.com, moviejawn.com and others.