In an era when hyperbole is the baseline for praise (or derision) of pop culture, it might seem trite to refer to the latest and final season of Shrill as totally life-affirming. For many millennial women, though, that is exactly what it is. The Hulu comedy series, which returns in May, follows Annie Easton, a self-described fat journalist on a journey to change her life without changing her body. In the three years since we first met Annie, played by the wonderful Aidy Bryant, she has gone from being body-shamed into believing her place was on the sidelines (she once left her pseudo-boyfriend’s home through the back door so as not to alert his roommates of her existence) to become a mostly self-assured heroine who almost always says the things you wish you had said in the most awkward or heartbreaking moments of your 20s. “Building your confidence or sense of self-worth from zero is an ongoing battle,” says Bryant from her home in New York. “This season, Annie is so much better off. There are still moments that arise where she finds herself feeling insecure, but the difference now is that she can deal with it in a way that’s kinder to herself.”
Luckily, Annie isn’t alone, and is supported by friends and co-workers that bring meaning and belly laughs along the way. Shrill’s incredible cast includes Lolly Adefope, who plays Annie’s roommate and best friend; John Cameron Mitchell, who plays her narcissistic boss; and Patti Harrison, who plays his scene-stealing assistant. On casting, Bryant says, “It’s kind of this web of people I admire or have been friends with through doing comedy and that I always, you know, just thought were fantastic.”
Annie’s self-love journey is interwoven with Bryant’s own, which tracks, given that she also serves as a co-executive producer and co-writer on Shrill. “In my early days in college, I was out of my parents’ house and really hard on myself,” she says. “Eventually, I just found that it was an exhausting way to live.” These days, they’ve both leaned into fearless self-actualization, which yields varying, comical results. In Annie’s case, she unwittingly gets herself cancelled this season when, after garnering acclaim for her pointed opinion pieces on body issues at the local paper she works for, she writes about a controversial topic. “Instead of people-pleasing and trying to camouflage herself, she is now trying to assert herself, be in control, and push for her own dreams,” says Bryant. “I think for someone who has not had a lot of practice with that, you could almost over-correct and go really hard and not be thoughtful to those people around you or to your own privilege.” In Bryant’s case, infusing herself into a wild roster of characters—from an insecure middle schooler to a wine mom to Tinkerbell’s bawdy sister—has become her calling card as a regular cast member on Saturday Night Live.
Bryant has been balancing both shows for the past few years, something that proved tricky during the pandemic and resulted in her skipping a few months of SNL to complete Shrill’s final send-off in Portland. “I hated missing those episodes, but I also love making Shrill,” she reveals. As for what comes next, Bryant says, “The pandemic has wholly frozen my idea of making long-term plans, but now that Shrill is ending, I’m excited to have a little space to figure out what I want to do.”