Shrill comes to an end and it leaves us wanting more.
SUMMARY (Spoilers for Seasons 1 and 2)
Following her breakup with idiot Ryan (Luka Jones), Annie (Aidy Bryant) is finally trying to meet new and interesting, and frankly better, men. At the same time, her roommate Fran (Lolly Adefope) is in a stable relationship with her former crush Em (E.R. Fightmaster. Yes, that’s their actual, not stage, name). Annie is still the new star of her newspaper The Thorn, which is dealing with a series of financial issues that put her future in jeopardy, despite her friend Amadi (Ian Owens) and her boss Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell) working to save it. Unfortunately, not everything is going to go according to plan in Annie’s life, either personally or professionally, and maybe some of it is going to be her own fault.
I’m going to start by saying that every show should be lucky to cast someone with a name as awesome as E.R. Fightmaster. I know the name has absolutely no impact on the actual show, but seeing it in the credits every time gave me a warm feeling in my heart. And you need that warm feeling this season, because, while it’s amazing, in some ways it’s one of the most depressing seasons of television. Part of why it can be that way is that Annie and Fran are very well-crafted characters with actual, believable flaws. Unfortunately, those flaws sometimes drive the viewer insane when you watch them make mistakes that you know they would commit but that you know are going to hurt them. We like these characters, but they are human and they do stupid, human, things.
The biggest thing about this season is that Annie, now equipped with confidence, is also still filled with insecurities. Unfortunately, because she’s trying to move forward boldly, she fails to really recognize these problems or deal with them in a healthy way, which results in her getting hoisted on her own petard. It’s a relatable feeling to get caught up in trying to do something and not see the downsides of your actions and the show does NOT pull any punches on it.
Overall, still a great show, but I think someone else may have more to say than I do.
THE FACELESS OLD WOMAN WHO LIVES ON MY SOFA
This season of Shrill had its joyful moments, which I’m always grateful for. My favorite part of the season was the girls’ night out sequence in “Retreat.” I know a huge part of that was missing that experience of going out with a bunch of lady friends and getting drunk and being silly. It’s not actually an experience I’ve had as often as I’d like, but it’s undeniably the exact opposite of quarantine – being spontaneous, going from bar to bar, making friends with strangers and sharing food with them, hanging out with friends in groups…boy, I really miss hanging out with friends in groups.
The ambiguous end of the show was sad for me and I’m sure for others. I don’t believe that everything has to be wrapped up with a neat little bow (Although I thought and still think that the ending of Stuart Little was absolute bullshit). I know the show’s creators didn’t find out this would be the last season until they had already started shooting the season. So with all that taken into consideration, I don’t think this was a bad ending for the show. I cried hard at that last scene, and marveled that usually this kind of “crying at a show” is reserved for touching romantic scenes, and this scene was about a platonic friendship. I’m upset on Fran’s behalf, but it honestly felt like she had screwed up way less than Annie and might be able to salvage things. And I know from Lindy West’s interview with Bitch Magazine that she didn’t want to fix Annie’s life with a relationship. “It was important to me to tell especially young fat women that romantic love will not save you. When you’re denied something or told you can never have something, it’s really easy to idealize it and put it on this pedestal, and I didn’t want Annie to end up being saved by a man, because you can’t be. In fact, if you don’t find love with yourself and really figure out who you are, you will actually undermine any romantic connection. You can’t be half of a person, and the idea that somebody else is your other half is toxic.”
I completely agree and I’m glad the show didn’t take that route. I don’t think any of this ruled out a happier ending for Annie (or Fran!). I’m so invested in the characters of this show, and in what it means to have a show with a fat female protagonist, that I wanted a happy ending for Annie, and I don’t think she needed a relationship to have one. The season 2 finale when she broke up with Ryan was a prime example of that, and I wonder if we would have had something a little happier if the show had gotten just one more season.
At the same time, it feels bad to lay all of my hopes for a fat positive protagonist at the feet of one show. It would be better if we just had more of them.
Annie returns for another season of dealing with writing, work, and having a boyfriend whose personality is mostly “beard.”
At the end of the last season, Annie (Aidy Bryant) quits her job after fighting with her boss Gabe (John Cameron “Angry Inch” Mitchell), her mother Vera (Julia Sweeney) heads to Vancouver to take some alone time after stressing over her father Bill’s cancer (Daniel Stern), and she confronts her stalker (Beck Bennett). As this season starts, Annie and her boyfriend, Ryan (Luka Jones), deal with both of them being unemployed as she tries to get a new job writing, only to find out it’s harder than she expected. She eventually takes her job back from Gabe, with Amadi’s help (Ian Owens), and tries to advance herself within the institution, but finds that Ryan is not helping that. Meanwhile, her roommate Fran (Lolly Adefope) is dealing with being single for the first time in a while.
Now, as with last time, I didn’t think that I was the best person to comment fully on this show. Unlike last time, I thought her breakdown needed to go in front of mine. So I present to you, the Faceless Old Woman that Lives on my Sofa:
The Faceless Old Woman’s Review
There was a lot I loved in this season that I’m not going to go into detail about (some great development for Ruthie, Amadi, Fran, and Vera, John Cameron Mitchell singing Moonage Daydream!!)
A lot of what makes this show great is the attention to detail. Like when Annie gets chub rub from walking around a women’s empowerment conference all day. Or when she needs to charge her phone after camping and leans over an entire family in a restaurant to use an outlet. Or when Annie goes to a hospital and people keep trying to give her directions but she still keeps getting lost, because hospitals are fucking mazes. It’s all of these little things that make the show feel real and relatable.
The “little things” are also where Ryan falls short in his relationship with Annie, even as he attempts to play a real boyfriend who isn’t embarrassed to go out in public with her. He’ll go to a work party with her that he doesn’t really like, but he’ll definitely use that fact later in an argument when he’s not getting what he wants. He’ll give her a gift, but it’s a pillow for her so she can actually sleep at his house, which had been an issue for…months, now? He’ll say “I love you” but he doesn’t actually listen to her when she says that she needs space or that her work is important to her. Also he has a gun??? That he’ll brandish in alarmingly irresponsible ways???
(I wish I could pretend that gun bit was outlandish but I know people who have dated men like that. Specifically, I can think of at least two women I know who have found a gun while sleeping in a guy’s bed. Like, under the pillow. I digress.)
The point is, that Ryan is the kind of guy who is willing to go through the motions of “boyfriend’ but isn’t capable of being a full partner. These things can seem like momentary misunderstandings or minor incompatibilities, but when there are a lot of them, they’re pointing to bigger things.
Ryan can often come off as a slightly clueless but well-intentioned goof in this season. Amadi says, “Yeah, he’s dumb. But he’s got a great heart.” But the moment Ryan says to Annie, in the midst of a work party where she’s having fun and making important professional connections, that he’s made “an executive decision” that they’re going to leave – you remember, “Oh, right. This guy isn’t just stupid. He’s a selfish asshole.” As they’re fighting over the fact that Ryan told his coworker that he and Annie had sex in the office, Ryan says “I just spent, like, two hours at this stupid party for you.” A person whose expectation is “nice thing I did for you is a transaction and you owe me” is a walking red flag.
In the season finale, Ryan says, “You just tell me what to do, and I will do it. I’ll do whatever you want.”
And fortunately for us, the audience, Annie says, “Yeah, but I don’t wanna have to tell you what to do.” She says she doesn’t want to be his mom and she wants a real partner. It brings to mind the various discussions feminists are having re: emotional labor. If you haven’t read the essay by the guy who left dishes by the sink, let me clue you in: it’s stressful and unsustainable if your partner constantly has to be “the manager” of life’s details or “the adult” or “the better half” of the relationship.
Ryan asks her if they can work it out, like they did with the back fence.
A lot of times, when you’re in a bad situation, everyone can see the totality of its shittiness but you. Until something clicks into place and you can see things the way they really are. Hopefully sooner rather than later. Now, after Ryan’s attempts to improve, he reminds Annie of where he started – with a complete lack of respect for her, and her going along with whatever he asked.
“Our very solid foundation for our relationship?” she retorts.
“I’m past that.” Ryan says.
“Yeah, well I’m not.”
She realizes that she’s stuck with Ryan because it feels easier than facing the possibility of putting herself out there and dealing with rejection from men.
There are different reasons we all stay in relationships that aren’t good for us, but they mostly boil down to: What if I leave and I’ve made a huge mistake? You’re calculating whether all these problems are really as bad as an indefinite period of “being alone.” It’s partially our society’s obsession with being partnered (see: the wedding industry.) But it’s also our very real loneliness.
At the end of episode two of this season, Annie and Fran are at a show and listen to a heartfelt cover of God Only Knows by the Beach Boys. Both are visibly emotional at the performance; Fran because she’s newly heartbroken and single and pretending that doesn’t bother her. I’d like to think Annie was also having a moment of, I want to have the level of feeling this song is conveying and I just…don’t. That is its own kind of loneliness: being partnered but lacking the depth of feeling you’re craving.
Back in the season finale, Ryan asks in disbelief, “What are you gonna do now, you’re gonna go date other guys?”
“Yeah. That’s exactly what I’m going to do.” Annie says. She’s added the little things up.
Joker on the Sofa Review
In the first season, Annie started to try and move forward with her life by speaking honestly about how she felt for what may have been the first time. She found her voice and told everyone “I’m fat and I don’t give a damn what you think.” However, throughout much of this season she’s forced to walk a lot of that back because it turns out that the world is still kind of crap even if you have talent. Despite having what everyone acknowledges as being an excellent voice in her writing, her attempts to write for herself fail almost immediately, as do her attempts to get a job in a creative field that pays, and she’s forced to ask for her job back. Fortunately, her ambition has led Gabe to take her more seriously and try to nurture her talent, including trying to help her find a way to say something when she isn’t sure what she wants to say.
The upside to this season, aside from being slightly longer, is that it does put Annie in a number of different positions from the previous one. We get to see her having to apologize to her parents for her behavior, we get to see her try to introduce people to her boyfriend, and we get to see her try to be adventurous in her new relationship. It allows us to explore more of her character and, frankly, some of the situations are just hilarious. Like meeting Fran’s family who all know that Annie slept with Fran’s brother and are very explicit about it, something that embarrasses her immensely.
The downside is that the Annie we have in this season isn’t much more assertive than she was in the last season. Hell, for part of the season, she’s acting a lot like she did at the beginning of the series, seeming desperate for approval despite the fact that she seemed like she was over that. It’s really annoying to see a character kind of devolve, even if it might be accurate to life. Progress isn’t linear, but it feels like after confronting her troll, Annie kind of devolves and loses herself for an episode or two, which is made more clear by her refusal to acknowledge Ryan’s obvious faults (as my counterpart already stated).
I will also say that Ruthie’s character was expanded in interesting ways in this season, mostly by making her scary and seemingly borderline insane. Every time she’s on-screen I question not only how she maintains her position, but how she is allowed to have contact with normal humans. It’s explained that she was adopted by Gabe and his partner, but her behavior goes far beyond what even being the boss’s child should let her get away with. I mean, she straight-up gropes Annie at one point and it’s laughed off. If Patti Harrison weren’t so damned fun and charming, it’d be even harder to understand.
Overall, I thought that the season was fine, but I never really got much more out of it than the last season. However, the ending gave me hope that a more definitive change is coming for Annie.
Aidy Bryant stars as a journalist who wants to change everything about her life without changing her appearance.
Annie Easton (Aidy Bryant) is a Journalist who is stuck working on a magazine’s calendar despite her excellent writing skills. She has a boyfriend (of sorts) named Ryan (Luka Jones) who routinely hides her to keep others from knowing about their relationship. Her father (Daniel “Home Alone” Stern) has cancer and her mother (Julia “It’s Pat” Sweeney) is overbearing and critical. Her boss, Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell) is dismissive and condemnatory of overweight people. Her roommate, Fran (Lolly Adefope), is supportive but also very self-centered. Annie finally gets a break, but having a spotlight just means more people to criticize her, including one very dedicated internet troll.
Annie is fat and at no point does the show try to beat around that particular bush. At two points during the first episode, a woman (Katie Wee) who advertises as a personal trainer tries to convince Annie to hire her by using every trick in the book that society uses against fat people: “You actually have a really small frame,” “You weren’t meant to carry around all of this extra weight,” “You could be so pretty,””You don’t have to settle for [your body],” and a number of ways of saying that fat people are essentially diseased. Naturally, when Annie finally gets frustrated with her put-downs and says “f*ck you,” the woman responds with “I was just trying to help you, you fat bitch.” Annie walks away and smiles as the song “Pretty Ugly” by Tierra Whack plays, with the chorus “Don’t worry ’bout me, I’m doing good, I’m doing great, alright.”
And that’s pretty much the summary for the show: Annie just wants to be okay with who she is. She’s a fat woman, and no one seems to be able to see that as anything other than a problem that needs to be fixed. At the beginning of the series, Annie has a number of problems, but all of them are the result of not having self-esteem from years of being shamed for her body, as opposed to actual problems that derive from her weight. She lets Ryan treat her like crap (he won’t buy a second pillow, makes her sneak out the back door, and won’t use condoms), her boss be cruel to her, her mother belittle her, and even random strangers take shots at her, all because she’s been told that she’s not right the way that she is. However, throughout the season she starts gaining confidence until finally at least one of her critics is forced to admit that they’re jealous of the fact that she can feel confident as she is.
The music for the show is brilliant and almost always matches the theme perfectly. The acting is amazing, with both great regulars and excellent guest stars. The writing is, to me, sometimes a little inconsistent, but it never falls below “good” and often settles around “great.” It never feels trite or overdone, and there are some great quotes, particularly from Gabe. Overall, I liked this show a lot.
However, I didn’t think that I could quite do justice to how well I thought this show handled its subject matter, I asked for a guest author to give her opinion. I hereby pass the mic to The Faceless Old Woman Who Lives On My Couch and go make a cocktail.
THE FACELESS OLD WOMAN WHO LIVES ON MY COUCH
I’d been meaning to read the memoir the series is based on for some time. I’ve missed Lindy West’s voice since she quit Twitter a few years ago. She’s still writing but without that social media pipeline I don’t see her articles as often, either. I adore Aidy Bryant and having the two of them working together is just a dream come true. The show is exceptionally and at times painfully good at illustrating the frustrations of being fat, being a woman, and especially being a fat woman.
It’s set in Portland, Oregon, previously repped in comedy television in Portlandia. (Portlandia creator Carrie Brownstein directs Episode 2 of Shrill.) Whereas Portlandia was a surreal but loving lampoon of the liberal Elysium, Shrill digs a little deeper into the reality of living in a place where everyone thinks they’re a really good ally, and in that respect I think it’s a great addition to the small family of shows set in the City of Roses. I’ve never lived in Portland, but anyone who’s spent a lot of time in liberal circles knows someone who’s said something like, “Do I look like the establishment? I’m wearing fucking nail polish!” (John Cameron Mitchell is perfect in this series.)
In talking to other fat women about this show, there’s a conflict between appreciating the show’s relatability and representation of the difficulties many people have with being fat, and the deep desire for a fat lady character to just have nice things for once.
On the “nice things” end, Annie does have a kickass wardrobe and apartment. Part of me is like “how would Annie have such a nice apartment with only one roommate if she worked as a blogger at an alt weekly, how could she afford all these cute plus size clothes, these things are expensive!” On the other hand, I’m also thinking “how awesome is it to have a fat leading lady who isn’t wearing a loudly printed potato sack?!” The wardrobe, the apartment, the various locations in Portland make a rich and colorful world for the show. The fat-friendly pool party scene is a major high point.
Annie’s job creates problems for her because she isn’t satisfied with the assignments she gets and her boss is extremely fatphobic. However, the biggest point of frustration for viewers is probably Annie’s shitty love interest, Ryan. Ryan is the quintessential Portland f*ckboy: disheveled beard, cohosts a shitty podcast, needs his mom to take care of him, doesn’t want his friends to know you exist, can’t commit to anything but texts nonstop if you aren’t around when he wants you. A lot of people can relate to dating a guy like this, but the rotten cherry on this garbage sundae of a human is that he pressured her into having unprotected sex with him, multiple times. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people can relate to that too. As a result, Annie has an abortion in the first episode. (Which is handled very well! It’s not a big deal!) (Side note on the morning-after pill subplot here: the evidence isn’t conclusive on whether it’s less effective on folks over 175 lbs, you should definitely still take the pill if you’re in a situation, but it’s still probably a poor choice for routine birth control. Talk to your doctor.)
Ryan seemingly has no qualities that would explain why anyone would date him despite his faults. He’s not smart, charismatic, or handsome, nor does he play in a band. All of Annie’s friends know he is trash. We, the viewers, know he is trash. Annie thinks he’s “better than nothing.”
I think some people are very tired of the narrative of the fat woman who has no self-esteem, and that’s extremely fair. I think the show finds a good balance in that Annie is learning how to stand up for herself at work, how to navigate her mother’s good-intentioned fat-shaming, and even confronts a vicious internet troll (a fantastic cameo from Beck Bennett). In her relationship with Ryan she also makes this sort of progress, but more slowly. I think this is, truly, very real when you’re attached to someone and you’ve envisioned them in your head as a future spouse. It’s hard to unwrap your head from that attachment, and you find yourself pushing away anyone who tries to clue you in. The show introduced another, really wonderful love interest for Annie midway through, and here’s hoping we see him again. But Annie’s just getting started and sometimes things get worse before they get better.