Shrill. Photo by Allyson Riggs/Hulu

 

New Comedy Series Takes On the Struggle for Self-Love

Shrill: Hulu series premieres in SXSW Film’s 2019 Episodic program

There is a moment early in the first episode of the new Hulu series Shrill when Aidy Bryant’s character Annie puts on a shirt and checks herself out in the mirror. She doesn’t feel comfortable in it, so she squats down and pulls the shirt over her knees to stretch it out a bit. It’s such a normal, relatable moment. Yet, when you really think about it, when is the last time you saw this exact move — which you’ve probably performed at least once in the last few months — on television? It’s moments like this that make Shrill feel special.

“When watching things, you want to see people who resemble you or the people you know and your life. It’s not realistic to not have that.”

According to showrunner Ali Rushfield, people who have seen the show often cite another favorite moment that is equally relatable in its glaring normalcy — It happens in the second episode, when Annie removes her bra the moment she gets home, before she does anything else. “It’s details and things that everyone does, but you don’t necessarily see.”

There’s something else viewers will notice about Shrill, which was inspired by Lindy West’s memoir — Annie is fat, but unlike most larger-bodied women on television, she isn’t trying to change her body. While Annie’s size inherently informs her specific point of view, Rushfield cautions that “it’s not what everything is about.”

Ali Rushfield

Ali Rushfield

 

Here’s what it is about — Annie is a journalist struggling to get her career off the ground while dealing with a narcissistic boss (John Cameron Mitchell), her ailing father (Daniel Stern), and the usual dating problems women encounter in their twenties and thirties. Annie’s life is relatable regardless of her size, though that does lend another dimension of specificity that will resonate with some viewers. “When we meet her, it’s not like the show is about the fat version of her, which is probably how it’s been at points in her life,” Rushfield explains. “It’s about the moment where she’s like, ‘I’m so sick of this ruling my life and there’s gotta be something more out there for me.’”

When we typically see women in larger bodies on TV, their entire reason for being is trying to slim down. “I think if you see a woman on TV who’s fat and the whole story is about her losing weight, it really negates having had that woman there in the first place,” says Rushfield. “It’s sort of insulting her. It’s saying she’s only going to be worthwhile if she changes who she is.”

Magazines, television commercials, and targeted ads on social networking platforms tell the average person that their body is bad and wrong, and that they should be working toward achieving the one “ideal” shape for all of us. Rushfield’s response to this manufactured ideal is a key component of Shrill. “There is no reason everyone has to live the same life and be exactly the same person, and that’s the message of the show — that you can live a full life and be a variety of ways and believe in different things.”

It’s not the only message of Shrill, which features representation beyond different sizes and shapes. Rushfield knew from the start that she wanted her casting to be inclusive. Annie’s roommate and best friend is Fran, a queer black woman played by Lolly Adefope. The actors playing Annie’s coworkers include a gay man (Mitchell), a black man (Ian Owens), and a transgender woman (comedian Patti Harrison) — whose gender is not a plot point.

Aidy Bryant. Photo by Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC

Aidy Bryant. Photo by Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC

 

“For what we’re saying with the show, it would be a shame if people from all different races and backgrounds felt like they couldn’t relate to this at all,” says Rushfield. “When watching things, you want to see people who resemble you or the people you know and your life. It’s not realistic to not have that.”

Rushfield co-wrote Shrill with fellow producers Bryant and West, and the end result is a series that blends real-world specificity with comedic accessibility — such as when Annie’s quasi-boyfriend Ryan (Luka Jones) asks her to leave his house “the back way” following their afternoon hookup. Ryan may seem to be the epitome of the “Ghost of Bad Boyfriends Past,” but even he isn’t quite who he first appears to be. For Rushfield, this is another important takeaway from Shrill.

“Everyone has their thing and is going through the same thing that makes you feel unlike anyone else, or that you don’t fit in, or that the world isn’t meant for you,” she explains. “And that is a universal struggle.”

Rushfield admits she was initially hesitant to read West’s memoir, but once she started, she couldn’t put it down. “It was a story I hadn’t heard, and a story I definitely hadn’t heard of as a TV show. There were so many pieces of it that were heartbreaking and appealing,” she says. And, she adds, it was a show that people hadn’t seen — not yet, anyway.

Shrill will World Premiere on Monday, March 11 as part of the SXSW Film’s Episodic program. Also on Monday, Aidy Bryant will join Elizabeth Banks for a Featured Session in the Entertainment Influencers Track.

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