Our Take: 3.5 Stars
Based on Lindy West’s novel of the same name, “Shrill” wrapped up its third and final season with the release of the last eight episodes of the series on May 7.
The Hulu exclusive show follows Annie Easton (Aidy Bryant, “Saturday Night Live”), a plus sized journalist, as she works through societal fatphobia, a slew of suboptimal romantic encounters and a stringent boss who routinely fails to see Annie’s talent as a writer.
The third season of the show picks up where season two left off, with Annie newly single after a blow out breakup with her boyfriend Ryan (Luka Jones, “Her”). Annie, fueled by body positivity and the realization that she was dating a deadbeat before, ventures out into the dating scene.
Her work best friend Amadi (Ian Owens, “Lady”) sets Annie up on a blind date with a divorced friend named Will, who also happens to be plus sized. Annie immediately assumes that Amadi paired the two together because they were both fat and ruins the date after excusing herself to the bathroom, only to accidentally text Will that she was on the worst date of her life when she actually meant to text her other potential love interest, Nick (Anthony Oberbeck, “Reveries”).
While this scene intended to show the all too common practice of society pairing fat people together, essentially deeming fat people as only worthy of romantic relationships with other fat people, it also shows the inklings of Annie’s own internalized fatphobia, which she admits to later in the season.
It doesn’t take long for Annie to recover from her disaster date as things with Nick begin to heat up. The two bond over breakfast dates, intimate moments and flirty emojis until Annie tries to move their relationship into the romantic sphere, only to be faced with an all too relatable “you’re awesome, but I don’t see you that way” rejection. Just when you think Annie won’t recover from yet another heartbreak, she reunites with Will at a party and the two hit it off after Annie addresses her mistakes.
For someone attempting to be unapologetically herself, Annie ends up apologizing a lot over the course of the season. One of her biggest apologies surrounds a controversial article of hers where she’s accused of humanizing a separatist family known for preaching white supremacy. The show uses the article’s backlash as a way to address mainstream cancel culture. The message gets lost as Annie waves away the controversy with her own Black friends, including her roommate Fran (Lolly Adefope, “The Spy Who Dumped Me”), who called Annie out for being incredibly insensitive. Annie presents her friends with a cake that says “Sorry I’m a dumb white witch,” explaining that the bakery refused to write “bitch” on the cake and in the mean time undercutting another opportunity for Annie to take responsibility for herself and grow as a character.
When Annie isn’t taking the plot of the show hostage with her self-serving antics, the third season of “Shrill” allowed space for certain side characters to grow into storylines that were cut short too soon. Most notably, the show shifted focus to Fran and her partner Em, played by breakout star E. R. Fightmaster. One of the most feel good moments of the show is when Fran allows Em to meet her conservative Nigerian mother, who surprisingly accepts their relationship after originally disapproving of her daughter’s homosexuality in the second season.
At its core, “Shrill” serves as one of the more accurate pieces of media depicting what it’s like to live life as a fat person. From receiving unsolicited advice regarding weight loss surgery to finding old candy wrappers she used to hide under the living room lamp as a kid, Annie’s experiences are painfully relatable to those who have lived in fat bodies. The introduction of Will’s character expands on this theme as he works through his own body confidence as a plus sized man, which is something audiences don’t often get to see in popular media. But the show ends up doing so a little too late in the series and ultimately leaves the intersectionality of male, LGBTQIA and POC fat experiences drastically underexplored.
Throughout the last season, the show seems to lose sight of its original purpose due to Annie’s overwhelming desire to be in a romantic relationship without having actually done the work to learn how to love herself first. The end of the second season proved hopeful for further character development as Annie finally dumps her toxic boyfriend, only for that hope to be demolished as the third season continued to revolve around her search for romantic love in lieu of her sitting down and working on the self love she preaches in her body positive journalism pieces. Annie’s insecurities fester throughout the show and manifest into multiple character-defining, problematic moments, including blowing up at Nick for rejecting her romantic advances and stalking Will’s ex-wife.
This lack of character development haunts Annie until the final moments of the show, which closes with Fran and Annie seated next to each other on a park bench, passing a bottle of alcohol between them. With both characters’ romantic relationships in peril due to their own problematic behaviors, Annie finally begins to question why she sabotages every relationship by leaning into her insecurities. She concludes that she can never fully believe that anyone would actually love her besides Fran, who has been by her side since college, revealing that she has yet to achieve a level of self love that would help her realize that she is deserving of a healthy relationship.
Despite the show coming to a screeching halt in its third and final season, which could have contributed to Annie’s major character flaws as the writers attempted to set her up for a fat happy ending with Will, the last moments of the show make the story feel complete.
The audience gets to hang in the balance of uncertainty with Fran and Annie as they figure out that they must first fix themselves before they can begin to let anyone else in, thus bringing the show back to what it should have been about all along: an opportunity for Annie to navigate her own self-love journey.