It is precisely 0% surprising Shrill has the cult following it does. Telling the story of Annie, an ambitious writer making her way though life without apologizing for her size, the Hulu series normalizes the experiences of being fat without making the main focus of the show about, well, being fat. But while the outpouring of support for the show seems like a no-brainer, to star and executive producer Aidy Bryant, fans' reactions to Shrill are still surprising, and sometimes a bit overwhelming.
Growing up feeling like the odd person out among the many "blonde and preppy" people in her home state of Arizona, Bryant found comfort once she moved to Chicago, which she says was "more diverse in about 20 different ways." But she still felt the societal effects of living life in a fat body, even after she relocated to New York, started at Saturday Night Live, and had the star power of a famous comedian.
"I had a couple of different photo shoots where Kate [McKinnon] and Leslie [Jones] had a lot more options than I did, and those kinds of things," Bryant tells Elite Daily. " I had sort of a moment of being like, 'This isn't my fault. I worked hard, I became a successful comedian, I got this job and I should have as many clothing options.'"
Bryant compares this kind of "f*ck it moment," as she calls it, to her character Annie's journey in Shrill, which is based on the memoir of writer Lindy West. In both Season 1 and Season 2 — which was released on Jan. 24 — Annie learns to advocate for herself in ways that are both powerful and messy, and can serve as inspiration to viewers. "I think something that Lindy and everybody who works on the show — we really try to lead with empathy and compassion. And I think if we can encourage people to have more empathy and compassion for themselves as well, that's a good thing," Bryant says.
Portraying a woman simply living her life — including working, having sex, going out with friends, and bickering with her mom — shouldn't really have any shock value, but because Annie is fat, it does. Bryant recalls a particular poster for Shrill in which she's wearing a cute one-piece bathing suit and looking all kinds of fierce. To her, it was just a pic of herself in a swimsuit, but to others, it was a huge deal.
"It's like, I see that every day, but a lot of people were kind of surprised by that ... and I think that's the kind of stuff you have to be doing in order to normalize it," she says. "Ultimately, it's baby steps ... I think that is part of the process of change, as maddening as it is."
But Bryant knows what she's doing with Shrill is more than just shock therapy for those used to only seeing thin bodies. "I've gotten some really, extremely beautiful and lovely messages from all different kinds of women and men, saying that it meant something to them or that they were going to try and wear a swimsuit this summer for the first time in six years," Bryant says. "That stuff is super overwhelming to me, because it's like not what I'm used to. I'm used to people being like, 'You're funny on SNL.'"
For the record, she's funny on Shrill too. Season 2 shows Annie figuring out how to wield her newfound confidence in a way that isn't totally reckless, from developing a positive working relationship with her boss, Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell), to getting what she wants out of romantic relationships. Though there's no word yet about a Season 3 for the series, Bryant is hopeful the world will be able to see just what Annie is capable of. "Let's get her out in the world now ... She's been kind of dealing with the same four to five people and now it's like, take it out there on the road and test drive it, you know?"