Let's just address the elephant in the room. I watched Shrill, the new six-episode Hulu series dropping today that's based on former Stranger writer and Slogger Extraordinaire Lindy West's memoir of the same name. Yes, I guess we have a "last-hired/first-to-review-a-TV-show-that's-kinda-based-on-the-workplace-you-just-joined" policy. It's wild. And I have to admit, as a current staff writer at an alt-[bi]weekly (especially the one the show is more or less inspired by), the media environment portrayed in the show was a little distracting to me.
For instance, the main character Annie (Aidy Bryant), an assistant calendar editor at The Weekly Thorn (like "in your side") who dreams of writing more than just calendar stuff, sneaks off during a work day to go have bra-on sex with her crusty fuck buddy Ryan (Luka Jones) who, post-coitus, makes her sneak out the back because he doesn't want his roomies to know he has sex with a fat woman. And if that doesn't make you think "fuck this guy," then you should know that Ryan has one pillow, loves to say "raw dog," loves to raw dog, hosts a podcast (a podcast on Alcatraz), and uses a sleeping bag as a blanket.
But to me, incredibly, Annie does NOT use this experience as fodder for the Weekly Thorn's blog, Thog (I made this up just now) or pitch it to her villainously gay and flatly written boss Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell) as a comment on like, "straight relationships." She sits on that gem of a story! Time is money, baby! How do you think we remain Seattle's top aggregator? By turning every facet of our personal lives into content!
Most egregiously, however, after publishing her first article (a review of a lunch buffet at a strip club), a coworker of Annie's SINCERELY SUGGESTS that she read the comment section because they are "really nice and they really get it." It's there she encounters her first troll that calls her a "FAT FUCKING BITCH" and posts a picture of a pig roasting on a spit. That pig is an Annie stand-in. I'm not saying that commenters "don't get it," but comment sections are perhaps less places of honest and interesting discussions and more a freewheeling space that the writer can dive into to get her feelings hurt about her own writing.
But my own hang-ups about writing at an alt-[bi]weekly in 2019 AD aside, Shrill, co-written by West, Bryant, and showrunner Ali Rushfield, has some really good moments. I think this was the first time I've ever seen an abortion portrayed so relaxedly in a TV show (it's in the first episode—I'm not fucking spoiling anything). Bryant is particularly great, playing Annie as a kind, earnest, and gently funny woman. This is one of the first times we’ve seen someone like her before—the main character in a show centered around a fat woman who isn’t trying to change herself but instead is figuring out what she wants.
That doesn’t mean she isn’t reckoning with what it means to be a fat person who exists in a fatphobic society. Plan B still doesn’t work for people who weigh over 175 pounds, as she discovers; people still feel like they have purview to comment on her body (“There’s a small person inside waiting to get out!” a rando tells Annie inside a Caffe Vita); and her weight gives trolls carte blanche to say really whatever the fuck they want about her. But, again, the most important thing to Shrill is Annie’s interiority.
That interiority exteriorizes in sometimes clunky ways—the dialogue gets a little after-school special-y. But in the same way that "Hello, I Am Fat" could have been one of the first times that someone read an article about a person who proclaimed fatness as not a "before" picture, and rejected the notion that "thinness is the goal, that thin = better—that I am an unfinished thing and that my life can really start when I lose weight," I think some of Annie’s speechy moments serve as a way to call out less-informed viewers about the biases they carry about fat people and could reach people's ears who really need to hear it.
That being said, I do wish Shrill had spent more time luxuriating in developing both Annie and the characters around her—I want more time with Fran (Lolly Adefope), who plays Annie's roomie. The series moved at a quick clip, hitting a lot of key moments in the memoir at a pace that didn't really flesh out her world—it would have benefitted from six more episodes, for sure. Right now, at around three hours in total, it plays like a long movie. But as it stands, it's a very interesting origin story that I hope gets the space and support it needs to grow into something truly great.
You can watch all six episodes of Shrill starting today on Hulu.