WHEN | WHERE Starts streaming Friday on Hulu
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Annie (Aidy Bryant, "Saturday Night Live") works as a writer at an alt-weekly in Portland, Oregon, and lives with best friend Fran (Lolly Adefope), and also has encounters of the sexual kind with sometime boyfriend Ryan (Luka Jones). Then there's mom (Julia Sweeney) and dad (Daniel Stern) too — the latter suffering from cancer. Meanwhile, Annie is also, in her own blunt self-assessment, "fat." This six-parter is adapted from the 2016 Lindy West memoir, "Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman."
MY SAY Setting aside Portland and a few other minor details, "Shrill" shares a bond in sisterhood with "Girls" and AMC's recent (and since canceled) "Dietland." They're each about women trapped in a thin-centric world where indignities, or worse, lie in wait — poised to ruin days or demolish self-images. Boyfriends are losers. Bosses are creeps. Parents are well-meaning but really, really annoying. Thank God for the roomie who "gets" them. Thank God even more for that gradual, life-affirming realization that "talent" and "voice" and sheer inner fortitude can and will vanquish the cold, cruel world — or at least that troll who keeps posting vile comments on Annie's stories.
There were and are differences. "Dietland" was filled with the savage indignation of star showrunner Marti Noxon, "Girls" with the ironic detachment of its star and showrunner Lena Dunham. "Shrill" has a pair of star showrunners too — super-stars, in fact, in Lorne Michaels and Elizabeth Banks. They rely on a constellation of other big-name writers and directors to bring West's memoir to life.
But what does this show-by-committee bring that's new and fresh to something that's now closer to a trope than original series? The answer — not all that much. The cast is good, but "Shrill" too often feels more like that extended trope than fully developed series.
Nevertheless, the better question is who is new and fresh here? That one's easy. Bryant is a bona fide revelation in her first regular series role. On "SNL," we tend to see that talent through a straw — she's Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Lil' Baby Aidy on the music videos or in some bit part in a sketch. On "Shrill," we see the whole talent and most likely some of the real person behind that talent, too. At least during the early episodes, Annie suffers some of those "fat" slights in silence, but Bryant gives you the sense that there's a lifetime of hurt behind them. Her eyes do much of the work in those scenes: A deep sadness suffused with recognition, translated as "here we go again." By the sixth episode, she's learned to confront her demons, or at least the ones in human forms. But the melancholy remains.
Yet as good as Bryant is, "Shrill" can only meet her halfway. Poor maligned Portland once again comes off as the twee capital of America, where no one seems to hold a real job and where the most pressing question of the day is latte or macchiato? John Cameron Mitchell — one of the big talents of screen and stage ("Hedwig and the Angry Inch") — plays Annie's editor, Gabe. He's an outsized ogre and bore, also most likely revenge served cold by West who once suffered under such an abusive editor. Mitchell is also misused, badly.
But for all its faults — and there are a few — "Shrill" will likely be back for a second season. At least Bryant has made the case for one.
BOTTOM LINE Bryant's a standout, the show not so much.