‘Shrill’ Season 2 Review: Aidy Bryant Remains a Joy in Hulu’s Ode to Self-Empowerment

     January 24, 2020

“You better run, you fat bitch!”

Those are the last word’s we heard in the finale of Shrills first season, a furious cry from Annie’s (Aidy Bryant) most vicious online troll after she confronted him in person, vandalized his car, and fled from the scene of the crime with big grin spread out across her face. It’s not the troll that’s important, nor his hateful words, it’s that grin, which tells you everything you need to know about where Shrill is headed in its second season.

Picking up moments after that finale, Season 2 begins when Annie sprints down the street, charges into her boyfriend’s apartment and shouts triumphantly, “I’m a fucking bitch, and I love it!” And then she screams. She roars. It’s the battle cry of those who have decided they’re finally done taking shit once and for all. And the grin is decidedly still going strong. When we met Annie in Season 1, getting called a “fat bitch” would have fucked up her whole night. When we pick up with her in Season 2, it’s fuel to the fire of a woman who’s set about redefining and reconstructing her life, sometimes in impulsive and destructive ways.

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Image via Hulu

Shrill’s first season was one of those unexpected gems that bubbled up from good word of mouth, following Annie on a euphoric quest towards self-empowerment as she decided to take ownership of her body, no matter what other people thought of it, and started to renegotiate her own value by starting with the only person who could decide that for her in the first place – herself.

Season 1 was about the revolutionary act of deciding your body type doesn’t determine your happiness, that “fat” can be an adjective instead of a pejorative, and that all bodies deserve space in the world no matter what the shape of that space looks like. The fat babe pool party was one of the purest, freest, and most celebratory acts of body positivity I’ve ever seen on screen (and sadly nothing in Season 2 quite matches it, though the roller-rink set episode “Skate” is a delight in its own right. But that elated honeymoon period has to transition into day-to-day life at some point, and Season 2 shines when it leans in on the mature, meaningful reckonings Annie has to make without compromising her newfound self-love.

In some ways, it immediately changed her life for the better, most notably with her non-committal fuck buddy Ryan (Luka Jones, still defiantly charming as the well-meaning but crass and clueless bro-dude,) who went from asking her to sneak out of his apartment so his roommates wouldn’t see her to becoming the doting but still-ridiculous full-time boyfriend of Season 2. But many of Annie’s messy strides towards self-actualization came with a cost. She sparred with her BFF‌ Fran (Lolly Adefope); who still struggles with her friend’s newfound selfish streak in Season 2; she had a rough confrontation over a lifetime of body-shaming from her mother (Julia Sweeney), who finds her daughter’s path to self-discovery sparks her own; and she quit her job at the alt-weekly publication The Thorn, which leads her to some harsh realities about young-gun freelance life. (Specifically, it sucks and you’re broke all the time.)

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Image via Hulu

In Season 2, Annie has to deal with the consequences of all that change, good and bad, and where Shrill’s first season the slow build to that impassioned battle cry, Season 2 digs into the actual battle. Which is to say, everything that comes next. How does Annie continue to fight for herself on the day-to-day without giving into full-time selfishness and blowing up her whole life? Shrill is a one-of-a-kind show for the way invests in tracking the journey through triumphs and pitfalls, all with a distinct kindness to its flawed characters.

It’s also still funny as hell, with some of the most memorable and immediately lovable characters on TV. There’s not a weak link in the bunch. Bryant remains an absolute pleasure to watch on-screen, channeling all that impeccable timing and line-delivery she brings to Saturday Night Live into a richly drawn character that’s so full of heart you can’t help but root for her. In the realm of standout supporting, character Adefope continues to ruthlessly steal scenes as Fran, who winds up on the other side of womanizing heartbreak this season and does a little growing of her own. We even get a Fran-centric episode when Annie accompanies her to a family wedding, but it’s still not enough. It will never be enough until Adefope is headlining her own spinoff. Until then, Season 3 take not: More Fran!

And then there’s Annie’s work crew, who remain a goldmine of snarky comedy and situational ridiculousness. As Thorn boss Gabe, John Cameron Mitchell is an MVP, who continues to be a loving thorn in Annie’s side and falls into a devastating K-hole in one of the season’s funniest bits. As Annie’s “work husband” Amadi, Ian Owens remains a killer with sly comedy and understated delivery. The real surprise this season is Patti Harrison‘s deliciously dark and bizarre office assistant Ruthie, hereby dubbed Ruthie the Ruthless, a wonderfull macabre agent of chaos.

The scripting is also especially sharp in Season 2, with so many wry lines you’re likely to miss some of the best jokes your first time around. In a standout episode directed by Natasha Lyonne, Annie heads to a women’s empowerment seminar where she faces down a goop-esque empire built on selling women their own confidence with empty affirmations and branded self-care. ”Do you want to come, or do you want to arrive?” says a fancypants lady hawking an exorbitantly priced vibrator.

By using corporate feminism as a counterpoint, Shrill highlights what makes it such a special show — taking an honest look at what it means to love and respect yourself, not because of ideology or groupthink, but because it’s what human beings deserve. The magic of Shrill is that it genuinely believes that self-love is a radical act, not as a slogan, but as a way of life.

Rating: ★★★★

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