When “Shrill” premiered on Hulu in March 2019, the show felt like another example of a comedy filmed in Portland that both reflected and advanced the national image of the Rose City as a comfy haven for unconventional, creative types. Like “Portlandia” before it, “Shrill” starred a “Saturday Night Live” veteran, Aidy Bryant, who led a diverse cast in a show that was too unique to fit snugly into the usual TV boxes.
In Season 3, “Shrill” still leans into a warm portrait of Portland, where the show is set and has filmed all three seasons. But this final season also takes on a sense of melancholy. The third season filmed during the pandemic, though that isn’t mentioned. What does come through, though, are the financial challenges faced by the Thorn, the alternative publication that Annie (Bryant) writes for. And perhaps because of challenges presented by observing safety protocols during filming, Season 3 sometimes feels disjointed, with supporting characters turning up, then disappearing (notably Patti Harrison as Ruthie, the entertainingly tart-tongued Thorn staffer).
Inspired by Seattle writer Lindy West’s nonfiction book, “Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman,” the show has consistently been subtle and smart about how Annie, the writer played by Bryant, has been impacted by being fat, as she would say. Annie has grappled with feeling limited by her size, and her writing breakthrough came when she honestly wrote about being fat, and not allowing others to shame her for it.
But Season 3 also spins its wheels a bit. Even though she’s dumped her overgrown man-child boyfriend, Ryan (Luka Jones), Annie spends a heck a lot of time obsessing about her romantic relationships.
About the only time we get a sense of Annie at work is when, restless with being pegged as the body-image writer, she heads off to rural Oregon to report on a far-right, anti-government family who may remind Oregonians of the Bundys, a clan that includes family members who staged an armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016.
In one of the show’s telling moments of naivete about publishing, Annie is horrified to find that Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell), her editor at The Thorn, has put a sensationalistic, “crazy clickbait” headline on her article.
“I am not canceled!” Annie protests, when colleagues and random Portlanders condemn her for giving a platform to the family’s objectionable views. “You must be feeling a lot of white guilt right now,” as someone tells her. But even that ultimately blows over, one of several plot elements that pop up and then fade away.
It’s likely not the fault of Bryant, West or executive producer and showrunner Alexandra Rushfield that the final season feels less like a conclusion to Annie’s story than an uncertain pause. During a virtual Television Critics’ Association winter press session, Rushfield said that as they went into Season 3 of “Shrill,” the creative team didn’t know this was going to be the final season.
“But we knew somewhere in the middle,” that Season 3 would be the end, Rushfield said. That gave them “enough time to make it an ending that we were good with,” she said. The ending “lands the characters in a good place,” Rushfield said, adding, “We feel good with the way it landed.”
Despite Rushfield’s remarks, by the final episodes, “Shrill” seems like the show is preparing for another season, leaving unresolved plot points dangling in the air. Bryant is very appealing, for example, but surely the show meant to dig into Annie’s self-absorption, and how it affects her and those around her.
The fate of The Thorn also isn’t quite clear. And we’re also left with some big questions about Fran (Lolly Adefope), Annie’s best friend and housemate, and her romance with Em (E.R. Fightmaster). It’s good to see Fran, who has, in the past, been characterized by her relationship to Annie, have her own story. We want to see more about how Fran will react to her relationship, but her emotions feel unconvincingly vague.
The performers are all good company, and guest appearances by “Portlandia” vet Fred Armisen and another “SNL” veteran, writer and performer Julio Torres (“Los Espookys”), liven things up for the brief moments they’re on.
Ultimately, by the time “Shrill” reaches its conclusion, it just feels unsettled. There’s more to this story, but we apparently won’t know what happens next.
“Shrill” Season 3 streams its eight episodes Friday, May 7, on Hulu.
By: Kristi Turnquist | Source