Aidy Bryant shines front and center in Hulu’s newest comedy.
There is a cringeworthy moment early on in the pilot episode of Hulu’s latest comedy, Shrill, that sets the tone for various encounters through its scrappy first season. While waiting at her local coffee shop, Aidy Bryant’s Annie gravitates towards a bulletin board and sees an amusing ad for a personal trainer. The trainer, it turns out, is also in the coffee shop, and she unleashes a barrage of phrases meant to assure Annie. She doesn’t realize how insulting they are: “There’s a small person inside you just waiting to get out.” A lot of the conversations may make people uncomfortable, but Shrill successfully insists that we need to stop dancing around the issues of weight and happiness.
Annie has struggled with weight her entire life. She eats pre-portioned, prepackaged meals that are meant to cure all hunger, and her mother (Julia Sweeney) has always been concerned about her daughter’s size. Annie currently works as assistant calendar editor at The Weekly Thorn, a site run by Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell), an idol of hers, but she yearns to write features for the site. Ryan, Annie’s boyfriend (played by Luka Jones) is an immature manboy who is trying to make a podcast about Alcatraz successful.
Annie makes the choice to make her life better but she doesn’t equate happiness with losing weight. They don’t go hand in hand. When she is given an assignment to check out a buffet at a strip club, she turns the review into a piece about the dancers themselves. When that article becomes a hit, she searches for other pieces that might appeal to unsatisfied audiences. She even tries to salvage the relationship with Ryan. With the success of her articles, come the inevitable deluge of trolls who call Annie disgusting names and say awful things to her because of her size.
Bryant is insanely watchable in this series. She’s always been a favorite on Saturday Night Live, but Shrill will spoil you because she’s always on screen. Sometimes she’s not heavily featured on SNL, but here she is given the opportunity to turn in some deceptively dramatic work. There is a moment at a pool party that is especially beautiful when Annie allows herself to be totally comfortable and free and she lets loose. Her happiness exudes through every pore of her, and Bryant doesn’t even have to say a word. She also has a monologue towards the end of the first season that is so honest and unguarded that will make you look at Bryant in a completely new way. She’s so great without being showy. The supporting characters are great as well. Mitchell is in full Miranda Priestley drag as Gabe, and you spend equal time hating him as much as you do laughing at the things that come out of his mouth. Lolly Adefope, as Annie’s roommate Fran, has a great chemistry with Bryant.
As I watched the season, I wondered who would actually call Bryant’s character ‘shrill’ and I realized that it’s not a description of its lead character as much as it is a word that is applied to women for no reason. Women are labeled or categorized in certain ways any time they express themselves (just look at the comments on any article online…actually don’t do that–that’s toxic as hell), and Shrill, in its smart comedy and easygoing nature, reminds you of that through its singular journey. It’s not lumping everyone together, but it’s asking you to not be a total jerk.
Shrill debuts on Hulu on March 15.