Update: This piece was written before more details were unearthed in regards to Shrills unexpected cancellation. But I still stand by writing this ramble of thoughts.
With the biggest sigh I can give, it is official – I’ve finished all of Hulu’s Shrill. The groundbreaking series, inspired by Lindy West’s book and starring Aidy Bryant, was indeed a ride. From the painfully genuine laughs, the emotional mountains to climb, and all of the awkward romance in between, there hasn’t been or may never be a show quite like this odd little slice of life. And as a plus-size woman, who feels closer to Annie than any other character on American TV, it’s crazy to see a series I so desperately needed go away just as quickly as it arrived.
But for all of its accomplishments within fat representation, Shrill‘s final episode left me in the weirdest of places. I am convinced most people won’t agree with me because of the underlying message the show’s last frames convey. And though it is a moral I typically adore and celebrate, the feeling of disappointment takes hold in the case of this show.
Everything below is a spoiler and a bit of a ramble of thoughts – you’ve been warned.
Annie’s Romantic Journey
From the beginning of season 3, Shrill invites us to see the new and improved Annie (played by Bryant). After having just broken up with her lackluster boyfriend Ryan (Luka Jones), we witness Annie having confident sexual interactions with a stereotypically attractive man. But the man turns into yet another disappointing blip in Annie’s story. Rather than romance her in the traditional sense, he ends up crying in a bathroom after failing to seduce her with barbecue sauce on his hands. Ew, for sure.
But Annie doesn’t give up. She eventually finds herself in the presence of her crush, Nick (Anthony Oberbeck), a freelance illustrator she met at a work party in season two. Yet her focus is diverted when her trustworthy work pal, Amadi (Ian Owens), pushes her to go on a blind date with his friend, Will (Cameron Britton).
When comparing the other romantic individuals thrown Annie’s way throughout Shrill, Will stands out from the bunch. He’s sweet, earnest, quirky – all of the things that seem to perfectly line up with Annie herself. Yet when she first sees him sitting at a restaurant table, she immediately judges him like so many have assumed of her. Because yes, Will is also fat. And rather than being a decent person, Annie zeros in on this. As if to say Amadi only paired them together because of their body types. And after a series of unfortunate mishaps occur on the date, Annie leaves Will in a fury of shame and anger.
As time passes, Annie’s quest to win Nick’s heart doesn’t go as planned. Yet like any encounter within Shrill, most characters are never entirely forgotten. And during Amadi’s birthday party, Will returns, looking like the cutest snack in a biker jacket and plaid button-down top. Annie, feeling embarrassed about their past interaction, definitely takes notice. And with a few awkward encounters amidst a plate of mac n’ cheese, Annie gives Will a much-deserved second chance.
Annie and Will: Reflections of Each Other
Once these two become an item, it’s easy to see why Amadi would pair Annie and Will together. Not only do they bounce off their humor and intellect in the cutest of ways, but they also visually compliment each other: Annie with her fun eclectic fashion choices and Will in his lovably dorky vibes. And as someone who dresses in the same vibrant way as Annie and totally was crushing on Will, this felt as close to my rom-com dreams that it could get.
But the narrative element that really works for these two is their ever-changing struggle with vulnerability. For Will, he’s in the midst of a divorce and has only been with one partner in any capacity. Making it a battle for him to be sexual in front of Annie. A familiar tale of nerves taking over romantic progress. Yet when it comes to our lead female protagonist, Annie has evolved in ways we didn’t even know.
In episode 7, “Beach,” we see the college iteration of Annie. Shy, quiet, and often following in the shadow of her famous “bestie,” Aidy Bryant perfectly evokes the awkward, ModCloth-focused millennial era that many of us experienced in our college years. It is a time to carve your identity, yet everything you do seems like a messy misfire. And nothing more perfectly exudes that moment in time quite like Annie losing her virginity.
The individual Annie picks to achieve this task is a tall, thin, theatrical boy – the kind that my eye set upon quite often in my early 20’s. But rather than pursuing any sort of legitimate flirtations with him, Annie bluntly asks if he would help her out with this “problem” – one that her supposed best friend often mocks in front of their social group. And when he grants her “wish” (you could say), Annie experiences what many have before – the most mundane of sexual encounters. So much so that she finds herself distracted by a spelling error rather than focusing on her partner. We’ve all been there, girl. Trust me.
Yet when you juxtapose this moment (within the same episode) with current Annie, the difference is night and day. In fact, it may be one of the most beautiful evolutions of a character’s sexual confidence ever put to digital celluloid. For not only does Annie (without batting a lash) nakedly hang out in a hot tub, but she encourages Will (in the most loving of ways) to shed his own insecurities – allowing the two of them to have a beautiful, meaningful relationship. And as someone that has been dreaming of seeing this kind of romance played out in any form of visual media, to say I was thriving watching this episode was an understatement.
But then we get to episode 8…
From the beginning, Shrill has been a story about Annie and one that is about her best friend, Fran (played by the incredible Lolly Adefope.) And there is no debating that fact when you look at the series’ final episode, titled “Move.” For if you ever had one doubt in your mind that the bond between these two was central to this series, “Move” shoved the point in your face, loud and clear.
In the episode, Annie begins to get antsy about moving ahead in her romance with Will. Mostly because Fran is taking the next step with her partner Em (E.R. Fightmaster) to buy a house together. This results in the two besties coming to terms with their new lives. But in a move that Shrill so often does, both Annie and Fran end up letting their insecurities about their relationships get the best of them, pushing both of their partners to uncomfortable degrees that ultimately leave them single. Proving that the real love at the center of the show was the friendship and that their immature shenanigans still need to be worked on before they can really advance.
Having witnessed the modern fascination pop culture has with reinventing the terms of what a “love story” can be, the choices made within “Move” don’t surprise me. We are living in a world where Disney’s Frozen is cherished by millions for its sisterhood bond. So many other female-centric series with millennial characters often go for unconventional endings instead of concluding in any sort of Sex and the City-style rom-com bliss. And though this is the kind of ending I often celebrate, it made me simply wonder why can’t we have fat joy?
Why is it so hard for shows like Shrill to have a more traditional ending? Why are fat people denied “Happily Ever Afters” within pop culture? And most importantly – why are most plus-size characters excluded from achieving genuine emotional growth? Why can’t we celebrate their successes as opposed to punishing them? Those and many other questions circled around my mind days after watching Shrill‘s finale.
In a general sense, Shrill will always be a special show to me. But it is one that, like many other uneven pieces of media, I’ll often find myself questioning the narrative choices made within it. It was a series that checked so many emotional boxes for me – accomplishing things I never thought I would ever see conveyed in any sort of show or movie. But for every success it achieved, it went down a messy slop. One that often felt like it was insulting Annie and Fran’s progress as adults instead of championing the trials they faced.
Ultimately, I hope we can have a show that picks up what Shrill left off on. One which allows for its characters to thrive in the silliness of life’s joys rather than consistently being slapped on the metaphorical wrist for their downfalls. The kind that shows fat people in an even more elevated and magical light – with more glamour, fantasy, and yet real-life stories – instead of focusing only on the character’s flaws. Because once – just once – I’d love to see a fat romantic comedy that’s just as silly as a Meg Ryan movie – emotional growth, fantasies, and all. But until then, I’ll be ending my rewatch of Shrill just a few frames short of episode 7’s conclusion.