Hello, welcome to The Fat Lip, the podcast for fat people, about fat people. I am your fat host Ash, and I’m back again very quickly after the last episode. 2 episodes in one week. Who even am I? I’ve had this Shrill episode in the works for a couple of weeks but it wasn’t quite ready on Tuesday and I couldn’t let Fat Tuesday go un-celebrated, so I did Episode 74, and now Shrill is ready, too! So we’ll just consider this a gift. For Leap Day on Saturday, I guess.
But yes, like I said, today I wanted to talk about Shrill. If you have not seen it and you plan to, just a warning–there are definitely going to be spoilers in this episode, so you may want to save this pod until after you’ve watched the whole season.
So, I want to start with a recap of the origins of this show and of Season 1 for those of you who need a refresher. Shrill is a short-season show on Hulu that is now in its second season. It is based Lindy West’s memoir, also titled Shrill, that was released in 2016. If you haven’t read it, you should. Actually I highly recommend listening to the audio book–Lindy West herself reads it and it is laugh-until-you-can’t-breathe hysterical and maybe cry-until-you-can’t-breathe sad in some places as well. It’s so, so good.
So Shrill the Hulu show is based on Lindy’s memoir, but it is a fictionalized version. It stars Aidy Bryant who is hysterical in her own right and is executive produced by, among others, actress Elizabeth Banks and Lorne Michaels of SNL.
In West’s memoir she talks about growing up a fat kid and hating her body all the way through her early adulthood and then, with the help of fat women on the internet, learning to accept herself and her fat body. West was writing for the Seattle independent newspaper The Stranger under Dan Savage at the time, and while she was learning fat acceptance, Savage was writing scathing pieces about the obesity epidemic and his personal disgust for fat people. West responded directly with a legendary piece called Hello, I’m Fat, and history was fucking made and fat people collectively cheered and I really hope Dan Savage felt really fucking bad. He probably didn’t. But I do wish him suffering nonetheless.
SO ANYWAY, I’ve derailed myself a little bit here, but this is the time period of Lindy West’s life where Shrill the TV show starts.
Well, the fictional version anyway. In Shrill the show, the main character is Annie, and she also writes for an indie newspaper under a megalomaniac. Her boss, though, is at least played by John Cameron Mitchell so that’s a single redeeming quality. And the relationship between Annie and her boss, Gabe, is similarly contentious. Gabe also hates fat people and doesn’t make any apologies for it, but at this point Annie is pretty timid and feels a lot of shame about her body.
And who can blame her, really. While all of this is going on in her professional life, Annie is having the worst time dating as well. She’s regularly sleeping with a dude who won’t let her leave through the front door when his roommates are home because he doesn’t want them to know he’s having sex with a fat girl, and he’s kind of a bozo loser anyway.
Then one day Annie sees a flyer for a fat babe pool party, and it sparks some curiosity. She figures that at the very least it’ll be something she can write about, so she convinces her (also fat) best friend and roommate Fran to come with her. And this is the very best episode of the show so far, written by the incredible and hilarious Samantha Irby. So they arrive at the party, and Fran basically falls in love at first sight with a gorgeous fat girl she meets. Annie, in the meantime, feels very awkward at first–she’s fully dressed while all of these amazing fat women, some of them in bikinis, splash and lounge. And she’s looking around at them in awe, and someone drags her onto the dance floor with them. And at first she’s so uncomfortable and stiff, but she’s surrounded by all of these other beautiful women with bodies like hers and she suddenly lets go of all of the shame she’s been carrying her whole life and starts to dance. And it’s so joyful and free and every fat person I know who has seen this has cried. Because we all know what she’s been carrying on her back this whole time, and we finally see her set it down. It’s so good. I did a whole episode last year about that moment and my own first experience at a fat event where I set down all of my garbage the first time. It’s a life-changing experience that I hope every fat person gets to have at some point.
BUT ANYWAY. I’m really spending so much time on Season 1 right now, but I think all of this foundation is really important for context when I get to my feelings on season 2.
So yeah, all of these things are happening at the same time in Annie’s life, and she is finally fed up, and she has this newfound feeling of freedom, so she breaks up with the idiot who is ashamed of her and goes home and writes her own Hello I’m Fat and posts it to her paper’s website without Gabe’s permission. And it gets tons of views and people love it. But Gabe is pissed. Beyond pissed. So he sets out to make her life a living hell and eventually she quits.
But Gabe’s not the only one who is pissed. Because Hello I’m Fat has also gotten attention from trolls, and one in particular proceeds to follow her around the internet, harassing and threatening her.
In Lindy’s real story, this part was even worse. Several months after she wrote Hello, I’m Fat, her dad died. And then one persistent troll, who was still angry about Hello I’m Fat and her other pieces about fat acceptance and misogyny, took it to an even more cruel level by creating a twitter account purporting to be West’s dead father and tweeting about how ashamed he was of her. It was truly fucking horrific. But by some miracle (after she wrote a piece about how profoundly painful this was), this guy apologized and she eventually got to speak to him. He explained that he had abused her online because she was happy in her body while he wasn’t. The writing she’s done about this provides some of the most profound insight about fatphobes and internet culture that I’ve ever read.
Similarly, on the show, Annie confronts her troll as well, and he apologizes. In this fictional version, though, the guy hits on her, she rejects him, and then he goes back to calling her a fat bitch. Which is so much closer to the troll reality we all know. So Annie truly goes off the rails and smashes the dude’s car window as she leaves. Which he deserved. And that was the end of Season 1.
So there you have it, a very long-winded explanation of Season 1. The point is that Lindy West’s book and story about overcoming this really hard shit on a journey to body acceptance is cornerstone fat acceptance content that everyone should read and know about, and Shrill Season 1 really did do that story justice for this format.
Which now, finally, brings us to Season 2 of Shrill the tv show.
So Season 2 is where the story digresses from Lindy’s and becomes purely fictional. And, unfortunately, for me, season 2 doesn’t leave me with that same shiny, we’re-gonna-be-okay-if-we-just-keep-going-with-this-thing feeling that I had at the end of Season 1. In fact while I was watching it I was disappointed.
With some time and perspective, though, I’ve come back around. I still didn’t feel like it was nearly as good as Season 1, and to fair they had a lot to live up to, but I do think there’s still good stuff here.
So let’s get into it. My first disappointment came right at the beginning of the first episode of Season 2. Annie is flying high after breaking the troll’s car window, so she runs right to the first bozo who won’t question her actions: Ryan. You know, the guy who didn’t want his friends to know he was fucking a fat girl? And this is disappointing. Like the whole point of season 1 is that this fat woman finally realizes her own power and stops taking shit, and then the first thing she does in Season 2 is go back to taking shit.
And she goes back to taking shit in a lot of aspects of her life. She lets this loser call her his girlfriend, but she also eventually goes crawling back to her fatphobe boss. And I was so sad about all of this when I was in it. I think I have been so thirsty for a show that empowers fat women and tells us that we don’t have to put up with anti-fatness in all its forms that I wanted this show and this character to be bulletproof.
But that’s not reality. Annie has to live in this world, and she needs a job and sometimes you have to eat shit at work so you can pay your bills. A lot of times. And she’s still new to fat acceptance and she still doesn’t know what a trash bag Ryan is. So I do get it. I am still sad, but I get why she had to have a trajectory like this.
And on a body acceptance level, this tracks as well. Annie set down all of the crushing shame she has felt about her body her whole life at that pool party in season 1, but she didn’t just get to live in that perfect fat utopia forever. She has to go back to the regular world where systemic anti-fatness is real and little instances of fat shame just get stuck to you like barnacles. Eventually all that shit that she set down starts to pile back up again.
And I definitely think that I have had similar experiences. When I go to a fat event or spend time with my fat friends, I get that free feeling. I don’t have to look around and wonder if I fit. It’s like being able to take a full breath again after having a weight on your chest every day. And the feeling lasts a while when I go back to regular life, but it doesn’t last forever. We don’t live in a world where fat people are allowed to feel that freedom.
And on the whole Season 2 doesn’t actually have much to do with Annie’s fatness anyway. It’s not a conversation most of the characters are having in this season. She still does have little arguments with her mom who is still deep in food shame, but the rest of the time her body doesn’t really come up.
And I have mixed feelings about this. If you listened to the Fat Tuesday episode the other day, you know I praised a couple of shows where fat characters were allowed to just be fat without discussion. It’s what I want for most tv show fat people–the same roles and stories that thin characters get. But I also feel like ignoring the realities of the way the world treats fat people is disengenous. So it’s a tough balance and even I go back and forth. I think that the perfect scenario would be a show where the marginalization of a fat character by the rest of the world is not denied, but that the perspective of the show is that this is a societal problem and not the character’s problem. Does that make sense? So if they show a character being fat shamed, I just want it to be accurately framed as a contemptible act and not a problem that the character needs to fix within themselves. Like the answer to a person being fat shamed is not encouraging them to lose weight, it’s encouraging the rest of the world to stop fucking shaming fat people. That’s the important distinction.
And for Shrill in particular, because this show originally was so much about a fat woman coming into her own and fighting back against anti-fatness, the lack of really any story about fatness in the second season is a disappointment.
And like I get it from Aidy Bryant’s perspective–she wants to write this character who has so much more to be interested in about her than her body. I totally get it. But I think by brushing it ALL aside, they do fat people a disservice here. Because we all do have so many more interesting things to offer the world than our bodies, but our fatness and the way the world sees us because of our fatness cannot be disentangled from the rest of our lives.
And I also have to say that one of the major criticisms of Season 1 of Shrill was that Lolly Adefope’s character, Fran, was criminally under-used. She’s such a great character, and she’s a fat black woman who is super cool and has so many qualities that we should all aspire to, but she was relegated to the black best friend trope for all of Season 1. In Season 2 it seems like they tried to give her more to do, but her storyline was still so flat in comparison to Annie’s. Like they tried to give her a heartbreak storyline, but the writing doesn’t ever seem committed to it or to doing the character justice. What I really want is an entire spinoff for Fran where she continues dating hot fat people and side-eying Annie’s antics.
There were some fun moments in Season 2, but nothing hit quite as well as even the medium-great parts of Season 1, and nothing even came close to that pool episode that Samantha Irby wrote. In fact, Irby doesn’t have a writing credit at all for Season 2, so maybe that’s where they went wrong. I’m pretty sure everything’s better with Samantha Irby.
By the end of Season 2, though, Annie is back on the upswing. She finally sees that Ryan is a dumbo and she seems to be set to start making big career moves. I’m hoping this means that we’ll see a season 3 and that she’ll be back to her shiny, powerful fat self. And I hope that Fran gets to be justs as shiny and powerful. Here’s hoping.
So that’s where I am with Season 2 of Shrill. If you saw it and feel differently, email me and let me know!
Thank you to Starcrusher for the music you heard on today’s show. Hear more at cstarcrusher.bandcamp.com.
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Okay, that’s all I have for you today. Thanks for listening and I will see you all next time. Bye!