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21 August 2019

BBC Three’s Shrill is a warm, affirming comedy

By Anna Leszkiewicz

When we first meet Annie (Aidy Bryant) in Shrill, she’s tiptoeing through life. When her not-quite-boyfriend encourages her to have unprotected sex before asking her to sneak out the back door, she obliges because “it’s better than nothing”. When her snarky, arrogant boss at the magazine she works for snubs her story idea about “Portland’s female longshoremen” (“You millennial dumpling,” he says, holding her face in his hands. “Please go away. I love you, you’re a vital and tiny cog”), she shuffles out of the room. And when a skinny personal trainer offers her an unsolicited lecture on how “there is a small person inside of you dying to get out”, she thanks her. Snide comments about her weight already make Annie feel as though she takes up too much room – so she minimises herself, in the hope that being permanently accommodating will make her light enough to tip the scales of life in her favour.

Adapted from a memoir by the writer Lindy West, Shrill first aired on Hulu in the US earlier this year, and finally comes to the UK via BBC Three on 15 December. It really begins when Annie decides to change: she gets pregnant, but, thanks to the advice of her kind friend Fran (Lolly Adefope), dumps her non-boyfriend, gets an abortion (“before it becomes illegal or something”) and pitches her boss a genuinely good story idea, on her newfound discovery that the morning after pill doesn’t work for women who weigh more than 175lbs. (He doesn’t take it, obviously.)

Both Bryant and Adefope are skilful comic actors, offering quiet charisma and playful but grounded performances. Their warmth, and the specificity of the show’s humour, make it an affirming watch. 

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This article appears in the 04 Dec 2019 issue of the New Statesman, What we want