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"I never really believed a TV show could change your life until I watched Shrill."

As a TV series, Shrill treads very dangerous ground.

Over the years plus size women in pop culture have been treated about as well as Uber drivers who list themselves as being “great at conversation”.

They’re either depicted as the jolly sidekick, the character sadly struggling with food addiction or in some extremely poor cases, such as with Netflix’s truly hellish Insatiable, as an opportunity for an actress to don an ill-fitting fat suit and grasp at cheap humour.

Thank the Gods above that Shrill, the TV series based on the popular memoir Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West, is able to skew far away from these tired old stereotypes and tell a different kind of story. Depicting the narrative of a plus-size woman on screen in a way I have never seen before, by utilising sleek humour paired with brutal honesty.

In the premiere episode of Shrill, a dramedy loosely based on West’s life, our leading lady Annie (played by Aidy Bryant), is slowly introduced to the audience through the eyes of the people around her as she moves through a number of situations that mirror the path so many plus size women walk each day

We get a glimpse into her professional life, where as a writer at an alternative magazine she is stuck editing endless calendar listings because her article ideas are not taken seriously by her jerkish editor Gabe  (John Cameron Mitchell), because at this point in the series she lacks the strength to stand up to him.

Annie’s mother Vera (Julia Sweeney) attempts to help her daughter lose weight (a service she clearly has not asked for) and chastises her over not appreciating the expensive diet food she has provided. It’s a scene that gently explores the unique type of internal pain that comes from being body-shamed by your own family, even in a way that’s meant to be well-intentioned.

Then, of course, there’s Annie’s quasi-boyfriend Ryan (Luka Jones), whose main passion in life is his truly appalling podcast about Alcatraz, followed closely by having sex with Annie sans a condom before politely asking her if she wouldn’t mind sneaking out the back door and hoisting herself over the fence so his roommates don’t catch sight of her.

This storyline all comes to a head when Annie faces an unexpected pregnancy and during a heart to heart with her no-bullshit best friend and roommate Fran (Lolly Adefope), she explains why she allows Ryan to walk all over her, saying “Maybe if I was just sweet enough, and nice enough, and easy-going enough, with any guy, that that would be enough for someone.”

Lolly Adefope as Fran and Aidy Bryant as Annie in Shrill. Source: SBS.
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As a plus-size woman myself, there are parts of Shrill that I found difficult to watch because they all skirted just that little bit too close to home.

There's a scene where Annie is confronted in her local coffee shop by a personal trainer who grabs her wrist and urges her to attend her classes so she can fix her hideous body saying to her in a pity-filled voice, "You don't have to settle for this, there is a small person inside of you dying to get out!" to which Annie expertly deflects with wry humour, replying "Oh no, I hope she's okay in there."

In a sex scene in that same episode, Annie can be seen pushing Ryan's hand away when he tries to take her bra off, keeping her body covered while they're in bed together, believing that if she is careful enough to stay fully hidden, he's more likely to want to be with her.

These examples of storylines might make it appear like Shrill is just a series of sad scenes coupled together, but the truth is that it's also a joy to watch, if you go in with the right expectations.

As a longtime reader and fan of Lindy West's work, I went into this show expecting the character of Annie to mirror where West is today – strong, self-assured and wonderfully secure in her right to expect love, career success and just general humanity form the people she encounters.

But Shrill is not a real-time memoir, it's an origin story, showing how the world can beat someone like Annie down all so you truly appreciate the way she pulls her way back up.

Listen to Shrill author Lindy West speak to Mia Freedman about her life on No Filter. 

Aidy Bryant's casting as Annie allows the character to be imbued with rich charisma and emotional depth, enabling her to be a person who is not always in the right, but one you are always rooting for.

It's all of Annie's little wins throughout Shrill that managed to bring happy tears to my eyes as I watched the series, as she becomes a woman who works to change her life but not her body.

Such as when Annie calmly tells a loved one, "I shouldn’t have to trap you into treating me like a human being", to the episode where she attends an inclusive pool party and for the first time in her life can really let loose without fear of her body being judged to the moment where she slips on a colorful dress and finally feels like herself after a lifetime of wearing drab sacks.

(Important side note, the fashion in Shrill is truly swoon-worthy and the first time I've ever watched series and not just thought "I want to wear that" but also "I could wear that").

Watching Shrill is a transformative experience and as much as I wish it had come into our lives earlier, at least it's here now.

Shrill will air Tuesdays at 9.30pm on SBS VICELAND from Tuesday, September 3. All six episodes of Shrill will also be available to watch on SBS On Demand from September 3. 

For more stories like this, you can follow Mamamia Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik on Facebook.  You can also visit our newsletter page and sign up to “TV and Movies”  for a backstage pass to the best movies, TV shows and celebrity interviews (see one of her newsletters here). 

Tags: entertainmet , features , review , tv-2
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