Annie Easton, the funny, forthright, plus-sized writer played by SNL‘s Aidy Bryant on the Hulu comedy Shrill (★★★★☆), ended season two of the series on a high note. Having established herself as the star writer at Portland alt-paper The Weekly Thorn, as well as establishing healthier boundaries with her doting mom and dad, she closed out a productive period by rightly dumping her sweet but incredibly clueless boyfriend and office copy-room fuck-buddy, Ryan (Luka Jones).
Picking up two months after Annie let Ryan go, season three finds her reveling in the single life. “I eat men,” she declares. Of course, men bite back, and the series, based on humorist Lindy West’s novel Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, maintains a suspenseful balance between ecstasy and humiliation. As it’s done for two seasons, the show rides Annie’s rollercoaster dating life through some hilarious dips and spins, but now she’s enjoying the ride.
She stays flirting, and Bryant fully owns the character’s sexual confidence and joie de vivre. In her career, too, Annie is self-deprecating yet also boldly ambitious, opposing qualities that Bryant molds into a snarky, admirable whole. The show’s writing team, led by Bryant, West, and show-runner Alexandra Rushfield, took advantage of advance notice about the series’ end date to craft a compelling season-long journey that tests Annie’s confidence on several fronts.
The first pivotal turning point in that journey arrives in episode two of eight, with Annie set up on a blind date that goes all kinds of wrong. The fallout leaves her coping with how her internalized self-hatred manifests in her dating and sex life. And, as she admits her responsibility in some of the awful ways she treats others or allows herself to be treated, she’s also caught in the extremely public backlash triggered by an article she writes about a family of white separatists.
The mid-season separatists arc provides the series’ strongest commentary on lives and issues outside of Annie’s, although throughout, the show grants space for its supporting characters to grow in interesting directions. Lolly Adefope continues to shine as Fran, Annie’s lesbian BFF and roommate, working through her own relationship foibles with newly-minted official partner Em (E.R. Fightmaster). And John Cameron Mitchell steals his every scene as The Thorn‘s bitchy, perfectly pretentious editor-in-chief Gabe, dropping zingers like, “I appreciate the steeliness behind your nastiness.”
In the season’s sixth episode, Gabe assigns Annie to profile “the most renowned voice of Generation X,” himself, leading to the intro of Fred Armisen, in Portlandia mode, as the paper’s erstwhile co-founder Bongo. In general, the office antics are stretched a bit thin, with too much of quirky co-workers like Jo Firestone’s loopy Maureen. And the show misses Annie’s parents, played by Julia Sweeney and Daniel Stern, whose screen time this season is limited to face-time calls home from an RV vacation to their now utterly independent only child.
But storywise, Annie has moved on from her parents, so guests Armisen, Los Espookys star Julio Torres, and Illeana Douglas, returning as Thorn publisher Sheila, pick up some slack, adding laughs and flavor to the fun mix of season three. The noticeably sharper soundtrack helps too. Sharp in the right places, and soft where it counts, Shrill touches down for a richly comic, fond farewell to Annie and her world of lovable eccentrics.
Shrill Season 3 is available for streaming on Hulu. Visit www.hulu.com.
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