From the moment we first meet Annie Easton (Aidy Bryant) in season one of Shrill, we know we are in for discussions about women and their weight because we have all been conditioned. Anyone who watches television or has eyes knows that the world expects a certain type of woman on screen and in print, and the rest of us mortals are expected to spend our entire lives trying to live up to that unrealistic ideal. It’s sad that in 2020 a television show with a lead character who is an unconventional beauty is still a novel concept, but here we are. The subject of weight is still present throughout season two, but the story moves closer to just being about the trials and tribulations of a young essayist finding her truth in Portland, Oregon. And that’s a good thing.
Shrill made it very clear from the beginning: it’s the world who makes Annie’s body an issue, not Annie. Co-creators Lindy West and Bryant have crafted Annie so that we understand she is aware of how the world perceives her, but she’s not going to let it affect how she feels about herself. Not emotionally at least. Annie knows she has tremendous value as a person and as a writer, but she let the world’s prejudices and possible rejection keep her from taking what she wanted. Season one was about Annie being fed up with waiting, and deciding to finally ask for what she knows she deserves. Season two is about Annie continuing to create her own success and finally letting go of everything else that is still holding her back.
The first episode of the new season picks up exactly where season one ends. We find Annie breathlessly sprinting down a dark alley in an attempt to escape the internet troll (SNL’s Beck Bennet) whose Escalade window she has just busted out with a potted plant. The troll made it his mission to unnerve Annie amidst her newfound success as an essayist at The Thorn by leaving derogatory comments on her online articles. The nerve Annie summoned to confront her internet troll, and then cause serious damage to his expensive vehicle creates a surge of adrenaline in Annie that, in a way, propels the rest of the episodes.
Annie continues to grow up and grab ahold of any opportunity available. After some initial career trouble at the beginning of the season Annie begins to get back on track. One of the season’s best episodes leads to Annie’s biggest professional success to date, while also poking holes in today’s “self-care” movement. “W.A.H.A.M” is directed by Natasha Lyonne, and centers on a fictitious “Women Are Having A Moment” conference. Billed as a celebration of female empowerment and self care, it reveals itself to be little more than a cash grab for organizers. Arriving as a devotee, Annie becomes disillusioned by the event after sitting down with W.A.H.A.M’s guru (played deliciously by SNL alum Vanessa Bayer). Depressed by the $300 entry fee and a lobby full of retailers offering products like $150 vibrators or body makeup for women’s “disgusting leg skin,” Annie leaves the event with a different view and a new personal essay.
Although Bryant absolutely shines as Annie, it is Shrill’s supporting cast of characters that add depth to the half-hour comedy. Season two invests more screen time in everyone who is in Annie’s personal and professional orbit, and it pays off. Lolly Adefope is a standout as Annie’s best friend and roommate, Fran. In the poignant episode “Wedding,” Adefope gives a touching performance as we are introduced to a different cultural perspective on the sometimes strained relationship between mothers and daughters. But it is Annie’s co-workers who provide the most laughs per episode. Annie’s editor Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell) has morphed from a snarky, hateful boss into an intriguing colleague and sympathetic supporter. Mitchell mines a lot of laughs and respect out of Gabe, who grapples with trying to remain in vogue while getting older. And The Thorn’s receptionist Ruthie, played by brilliantly by Patti Harrison, both creates and breaks the tension with her magnificent line deliveries of absurd dialogue. Harrison somehow makes Ruthie incredibly endearing even though every line out of her mouth is something insulting and barely rooted in reality.
It is obvious by the end of the season that Annie actually does need to drop some extra weight: her boyfriend Ryan. He is the antithesis of Annie, and not in an adorable opposites-attract way. Kudos to Luka Jones and his commitment to the undesirable Ryan, but he is frankly doing too good of a job because I cringe every time his unwashed face is onscreen. From his inappropriately timed conversation to the clothes he wears, Ryan presents as an adult male with a learning disability more than an ill-suited romantic partner. It seems by the end of the season Annie finally begins experiencing Ryan fatigue, and while I am grateful, I’m not sure why it took so long.
There has yet to be any official word on Shrill’s third season, but I hope it gets one. It would be interesting to see where Annie’s writing takes her. More importantly, I want to see her experience dating without letting the fear of rejection hold her back from ending up with someone who is actually worthy of her. Like, maybe Nick the illustrator, who we meet late in season two and who holds a lot of potential. Shrill definitely deserves a third season, but if it doesn’t happen I would certainly settle for a Gabe and Ruthie spin-off.