SHRILL. Hulu's recent fun-size six-episode series Shrill, which loosely fictionalizes Lindy West's autobiographical essay collection of the same name, is a collage of fun, brave and smart things that are ultimately hard to adore as a package.
I say that with real regret because there's no doubt that I'm in the bulls-eye of this show's target audience. Like the main character Annie, who is played with trademark amiable charm by Saturday Night Live star Aidy Bryant, I am a fat feminist writer. I learned to embrace the two F-words in my mini-biography thanks in part to West, who helmed the last decade's body-positivity movement during her career as a writer at Seattle's The Stranger, feminist website Jezebel and now on the masthead of The New York Times.
Like West, the fictive Annie works at an alt-weekly in a trendy Northwestern town, has a contentious relationship with her self-lauding "woke" editor and, after publishing her first article, receives a deluge of comments from aggressive online trolls. (In 2013 West famously found and confronted one of her most vicious trolls, who had mocked and berated her using a Twitter account in her dead father's name. That story was carried in The Guardian and on an episode of This American Life, and is surprisingly buoying.)
In interviews, West and Bryant were careful to point out that the series is not a faithful reenactment of West's experience and that they drew on anecdotes that came out a writer's room that included other fat women, including the phenomenal Samantha Irby. (Go get a copy of Meaty as soon as you can.) While said anecdotes are funny and brave, this hodgepodge of experiences may have worked against the success of the series' attempt to create a narrative. Yes, there are epiphanies and triumphs and pitfalls and lessons along the way, but much of the character growth feels unearned, several plot lines peter out into nothing and the ending was wan and unsatisfying.
This is a damned shame, not in small part because I'd like for more people to see this show and enjoy it enough to come out the other side with some empathy toward the experience of large women. There are moments that resonate deeply even as they make me cringe, like when Annie's scrubby sex partner asks her to leave out the back door so he "won't have to explain his love life" to his roommates and a bizarre exchange in a coffee shop where she is told by an aggressive personal trainer that there's a "small person trapped inside her," then offered the backhanded compliment of comparison to Rosie O'Donnell by yet another person. This is not to say that these experiences are universal to fat women but, speaking as someone who's lived it, it's fair to say they're common. It really, really, really sucks to exist in a body that society considers the "before" version of what's acceptable. It really, really, really sucks to have complete strangers comment on their perception of your health and to feel like you have to apologize for existing. You know who's great at helping you get over all that? Lindy West.
The fact that we now live in a social climate shaped by writers and thinkers such as West may contribute to how unbelievably cartoonish of some of these characters come across. For example, the abusive editor (played by John Cameron Mitchell) tells his employees "dress like they've been to New York" for their mandatory attendance at a Friday night art show featuring the work of his husband. He also pointedly tells Annie that her weight is impacting the company's healthcare premiums. Part of that extremity is just the alt-weekly world which, now that I no longer rely on the Journal for my primary paycheck, I can tell you is an industry infamous for cronyism, body shaming and defenestration. But things have also changed a dizzying amount in just the last decade, to the point that the indignities suffered by West and her cohort in the early aughts no longer feel wholly realistic when set in 2019. Things aren't perfect — not by a long shot — but they're getting better for big women. If you agree, consider leaving a nice comment for West or another fat, feminist writer who has worked to make the world better. TVMA. 30M EPISODES. HULU.
— Linda Stansberry
See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
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— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill