It may not be a direct adaptation of its unapologetically feminst source material, but Hulu’s new show Shrill is wholeheartedly about learning to find your voice and love yourself. Based on Lindy West’s memoir Shrill: Notes From A Loud Women, the dramedy stars SNL’s Aidy Bryant as Annie, a fat woman who suppresses her shame and self-doubt about her weight and overcompensates with outward politeness.
The audience gains perspective on Annie’s life by witnessing a devastating series of increasingly gloomy interactions; a random yoga instructor at a coffee shop condescendingly tells her there’s a “skinny person living inside her,” her ideas are rudely dismissed by her fat-shaming boss, and she continues a troubling relationship with a scumbag despite a laundry load of red flags. What could all build to a breaking point or a grand epiphany ultimately becomes something more realistic as Annie gradually begins to identify the problem areas in her life, actively make changes, and step out of her comfort zone, often to mixed, humorous results.
In resisting the itch to make this a feel-good television comedy from the get-go, Shrill aims to tell a grounded, relatable, and underrepresented story. The show is loosely based on West’s real-life experiences, and in reading the source material, Bryant for the first time saw herself in something, which pushed her to pursue the project. The series, which is now streaming on Hulu, premiered at SXSW where we had a chance to chat with West, Bryant, and producer Ali Rushfield (Parks and Rec, Love) about their gratifying experience of making the show, the heavier topics the series addresses, and the “magical fat babe pool party” in episode four.
What stood out to you about Lindy West’s book, and what made it a good fit to be adapted for the screen?
Aidy Bryant: At least for me, when I read Lindy’s book, it was just the first time I ever saw myself in something. I was like, “This is how I always felt.” And Lindy did such a beautiful job of crystallizing these things I had felt for a long time and always wanted to say. And so when it was coming around like, “Oh, it’s gonna be a TV show,” I wanted to be a part of that. I want to help tell this story because I love it so much, and I believe in it so much.
Ali Rushfield: I know, I have to say, I was just re-reading some things in it, and I was like, “She’s a real wordsmith.” She really does wonders with those letters and words.
Why did now feel like the right time to tell this story on TV?
Ali Rushfield: I think people are open to hearing from other voices than you normally hear from. And I also, just from a business point of view, I think there’s so much TV, so there’s room for more.
Lindy West: And I gotta say, I think that it’s pretty clear from her work on SNL that Aidy is a huge star. And personally, just as a fan, I was ready to see her explode.
Aidy Bryant: Wow, this is our first interview of the day, and we are already coming in so hot for each other. I love it.
What aspects of Aidy’s character Annie do you think people are going to connect with? I saw some self-doubts within that character that I too could relate to.
Aidy Bryant: I think one of the beautiful things about Lindy’s book, but also about our show, is it’s not just a show for fat women. It’s a show for truly every person, and it’s a different way to think about things. I think the nice thing about Annie is there’s a lot of universal things that people can grab onto about her. The feeling of feeling like an imposter. The feeling of feeling like, “I don’t know if what I’m doing is okay, but I want to be a good person.’ Then also feeling like, “Oh, am I too fat to exist? And how can I fit into the world?”
Without going too far into spoilers, the show tackles abortion in a brave and sensitive way early on. What was the discussion like in the writer’s room to tackle a heavy topic like that in a comedy?
Lindy West: It was planned in the pilot from the very beginning. It was in the pitch. We talked about it in all of our pitch meetings. And I think, especially right now, when politics is so fraught and complicated, and reproductive rights especially, are in the line of fire, we wanted to make this statement about the way that abortion really functions in real people’s lives. Which is not the way that it’s usually presented on TV. It’s usually this high drama moment where people have really conflicting feelings about it, and maybe it doesn’t happen at all. A lot of times people on TV have a miscarriage at the 11th hour and they don’t have to even make the choice.
Aidy Bryant: Or it’s like they’re punished for having done it.
Lindy West: Yeah, absolutely. And we just wanted to have a more true, honest reflection of what is the norm for a lot of people, which is that people who don’t want to be pregnant have a medical procedure that makes their life better. And the overwhelming percentage of people who have an abortion expressed relief afterwards, not this agony and regret. Although obviously, those stories are real too. We wanted to tell a different story.
Which story from this season are you most proud of?
Aidy Bryant: I really love the fourth episode. We go to this big fat babe pool party, and for me, even actually shooting that episode, it was transformative. It was as magical as we hoped. And even just being on set with all of those ladies that day, it really was a dream come true, and so overwhelming, and to see women in bikinis dancing without worrying about what was poking out or anything, it was totally exhilarating. And I am excited for people to see that.
Ali Rushfield: By the end of the day, me, and Lindy, and the first AD were hugging and crying. That’s like, real.
Lindy West: I mean, the thing about shooting a big, magical, fat babe pool party is that you have to throw a big, magical fat babe pool party. And I fully jumped in the pool when we were done, and it was really fun.
Chris Longo is the deputy editor and print editor of Den of Geek. You can find him on Twitter @east_coastbias.