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'Shrill' and Aidy Bryant's Annie Define Being Yourself
March 15, 2019  | By David Hinckley
 

Annie doesn’t call herself plus-size. She calls herself fat, and her complicated relationship with that notion has defined much of her life.

Shrill, a six-part dramedy that launches Friday on Hulu, joins Annie (Aidy Bryant) at the moment when she decides she wants to make more of that definition herself and leave less of it to the rest of the world.

Annie’s in her 20s, living in an apartment with her best friend Fran (Lolly Adefope, right) in her hometown of Portland. She wants to be a journalist, and she’s just starting her career at a publication where she compiles calendar listings and tries to pry actual writing assignments from her uninterested boss Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell).

Her love life seems to consist primarily of secretive hookups with the flaky Ryan (Luka Jones, below), who has Annie sneak out of his room through the back door and over a fence so his roommates don’t see her.

It’s an everyday event, it seems, for her to run into people like Tonya, a chirpy personal trainer who condescendingly tells Annie, “You don’t have to look like that.”

Annie smiles a lot and nods. She’s a good sport, and she’s good-natured, seemingly immune to the innuendo of a world that worships Size 4.

Then something happens, a life-changing event as they say, and all of a sudden another Annie emerges.

Call her more confident and more assertive. Or call her loud and shrill. Because that last word has become verbal shorthand by which men try to diminish and dismiss women, Lindy West used it as the defiant title of the book on which this series is based.

In any case, the new Annie is the Annie we’ll be getting to know. We know who she was and how deferentially she has always behaved toward the world, but our story will revolve around a woman who’s not afraid to unleash her inner shrill.

Shrill the TV series does not, however, suggest Annie’s newfound confidence totally liberates her. While those in her immediate sphere may become more responsive because she pushes them harder – think Gabe – others do not lay off either the insults or the patronizing.

It’s still a cruel world out there, and while Annie knows that the cruelty says more about the speaker than the subject, she never completely shakes some long-standing and contradictory feelings about herself.

After a short visit back home, where she looked at a wall of pictures from her childhood, she tells Fran how happy that child seemed to be. And how big.

“There’s a certain way your body’s supposed to be,” Annie says, “and I’m not that.”

It’s something she thinks about every day all day, she says. It may not rule her life, but it’s never gone from her life, and it left her always on defense: “I thought if I were just sweet enough, and easy-going enough . . . .”

Shrill doesn’t take Annie on the short step from that confession to self-pity. It does acknowledge her vulnerability, which adds a poignant and often humorous dimension to her further adventures.

She shares not just a name with the celebrated comic-strip Annie of the previous century, but the elusive quality of pluck. She wears it well.

 
 
 
 
 
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