There were a lot of things to like about the first two seasons of Shrill. From the start, the show had a winning and diverse cast led by Aidy Bryant, and funny dialogue peppered with zingers in the tone of Lindy West, the former Stranger writer who penned the memoir Shrill and co-created the show. It also took an honest point of view about the shit fat people have to deal with—a rarity in pop culture and an admirable mission, if a bit clumsily handled at times. It even managed to do the seemingly impossible in portraying Portland in a way that, while obviously not entirely accurate, felt mostly true and un-cringey.
But while there were plenty of promising elements that kept me watching, Shrill never quite managed to tie them together into a complete, satisfying package. Few characters other than Annie (Bryant) got fully fleshed-out, plotlines would be hinted at in one episode then dropped for the rest of the season, and the show perpetually felt like a proof-of-concept project—see, this show about a fat woman is funny and smart—rather than a TV show you could just put on and enjoy. Hulu’s super-short seasons (seven or eight episodes in the 25-minute range) probably didn’t help in that department, though plenty of other shows have done more with similar runtime constraints.
Happily, the third and final season of Shrill, which drops Friday on Hulu, is its strongest yet. Much of the criticism of past seasons centered on Annie’s roommate and best friend Fran (played by the delightful Lolly Adefope), a witty Black lesbian who’s also plus-size, and yet mostly served as a comedic sounding board for Annie’s journey of self-acceptance and finding her voice. Season three disrupts that format by giving Annie’s and Fran’s romantic and career-focused storylines near-equal runtime, and making their complicated friendship a central plot driver, especially in the season’s second half.
This is also the first season that sees Annie mostly free from Ryan, her bare-minimum ex-boyfriend. Plunging back into the dating world makes for both funny hijinks and some of the show’s most insightful bits on Annie’s own internalized fatphobia. Meanwhile, Fran is happily partnered-up with Em (E.R. Fightmaster), a nonbinary person with charming stoner energy, but fully committing to Em forces Fran to confront her own messy family dynamics and sometimes co-dependent friendship with Annie.
And of course, we can’t forget about the Weekly Thorn! The Thorn is the Portland alt-weekly that employs Annie and is perhaps lightly inspired by The Stranger and Portland Mercury. This season sees budget cuts and the threat of a new buyer for the Thorn—you know shit must be bad in local media when even the fictional papers are laying off workers! It also has Annie trying to break out of her niche writing about fat issues, which means doing a very ill-advised cover story about a fictionalized version of the Bundy family. Annie gets “canceled” for giving the family a platform for their racist opinions, even though she skewers them in the article. The show does a decent job exploring the responsibilities journalists have when deciding which stories are worth covering at all, and how racial dynamics play out in mostly white newsrooms.
The Thorn staff boasts an incredible ensemble cast, including John Cameron Mitchell, Patti Harrison, Ian Owens, and Jo Firestone. In fact, my one major gripe with season three is that I wish they had all been given more to do. But I didn’t miss Annie’s parents, who are off on a cross-country camping trip and only appear in video calls this season. Annie’s given breathing room away from her judgemental mom and peacemaker dad, and both she and the show thrive with the new independence.
Shrill’s finale doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat little bow—far from it, actually—but it does mark some important milestones for Annie, Fran, and the Thorn, and hints at what might come next for them. As the credits rolled, I double-checked to make sure it was the last episode, excited for the characters and bummed I wouldn’t get to see what happens next.
That means that at some point while I was watching season three, Shrill transcended my personal “show I’m rooting for” category and finally became a show I genuinely wanted to watch. It’s too bad we won’t get to see any more new episodes, but at least it’s going out on a high note.