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[This story contains spoilers from season two of Hulu’s Shrill.]
The first season of Shrill, Aidy Bryant’s Hulu comedy about a plus-size Portland writer, saw the timid Annie (Bryant) finally learn how to use her voice in both her personal and professional life. Season two, now streaming on Hulu, delves into what happens once she speaks out.
While the six-episode first season was brief out of necessity — Bryant and co-creators Ali Rushfield and Lindy West, on whose memoir the series was based, wrote and filmed the entire season during the Saturday Night Live star’s hiatus (and after her wedding) — the show’s April 2019 renewal gave the team more time and episodes for season two, though Bryant still had to squeeze in work on the comedy between seasons of SNL, limiting the number of episodes even an expanded Shrill could produce.
Season two’s eight-episode run sees the newly unemployed Annie, who quit her job at Portland’s Thorn newspaper at the end of the first season, embark on a new freelancing career, then retreat back to her old gig at the alt-weekly with the promise that her overbearing boss (John Cameron Mitchell) would treat her with marginally more respect. Her long-term hookup, Ryan (Luka Jones), is now her boyfriend, having stepped up to demonstrate his affection (and respect), and she’s smoothed things over with BFF and roommate Fran (Lolly Adefope).
But as much confidence as Annie has gained, she’s also had to make capitulations along the way, at work and in her relationship. By the end of the new season, her newfound confidence has calibrated to a level somewhere in the middle of the doormat from the series premiere and the brash window-smasher from the season one finale. And while Ryan has tried to become a better boyfriend, Annie has realized he can’t give her what she needs no matter how hard he tries — and she dumps him after a disastrous dinner party.
Below, the actress, writer, producer and occasional fashion designer talks with The Hollywood Reporter about her character’s evolution, staying at SNL, the NBC sketch show’s recent hiring controversy, curbing her people-pleasing instincts, and, yes, learning to ask for more.
Were you more confident in your skills as a producer and writer going into season two?
One hundred percent. After I did the first season I felt so ready to go again, because I learned so much. Part of it is trying to become comfortable with being a boss of a job. But also, we had established the tone of the show, and we finally had something that we could point to as proof of what we were talking about. So it was so helpful in season two to be like, “Oh, you know how the strip club episode in season one went? Let’s do something like that, but this way.” It was so much easier to translate what was in your mind and get it to actually happen.
Season one was a very short six episodes. Was having eight in season two better or more difficult?
I think it was better. I feel like the six episodes in a nice way really simplified things for us where it was like, “Okay, this is all A story. This is about one person going from point A to point B, and getting her on the other side of this personal epiphany.” And now in season two we have those as a foundation, and there’s so much more room in eight episodes. I just felt rich with space. We really got to get into Fran more and go deeper into some of [Annie’s] workplace stuff and even go beyond some of the body stuff and get into her psyche as a partner and what she really wants.
It was definitely frustrating to watch Annie being taken advantage of in the first season and unable to speak up for herself.
She’s smart. She should know better, but I think that’s part of the [journey] — it just takes a lot longer to get to any kind of change, because it’s hard.
If you had to summarize the season, you could say that Annie is technically in the same place that she was in the beginning of the series — at the same job and trying to break it off with the same guy — but she’s really not. So much has happened within her.
It’s so subtle, and it’s all self-reflection. I think it is the difference of the internal makeover.
Season one showed the ways in which she was failing the people around her as well, like how she was being a bad friend to Fran. Can you talk about redeeming Annie in that regard and making her realize she wasn’t treating her friend well?
Part of what we were really trying to show is that is often how your closest friendships are, where it’s like, “Oh, I love my friend, my friend gets me, so they understand that I gotta do me right now” or something. You can take that too far, which Annie totally did. The nice thing about season two is she does get a chance to redeem herself, and it doesn’t take much for her to be like, “Oh yeah, I’m fucking stupid. I love you and I want to be your support system.” That is how friendship feels sometimes. It’s never a perfect side-by-side journey. It’s a push and a pull, and sometimes someone’s low and the other one’s high and you still rock with each other.
Annie gains a lot more confidence in her work in season two, and there are a lot of scenes in the Thorn office. Patti Harrison stands out — I think she might be the funniest human being on the planet.
She is. I think she is the funniest human being on the planet, and I love to see her on the show because she just, like, rips shit up and goes really hard and it’s truly not who she is. She is one of the sweetest, most thoughtful [people], really a loving friend, and then she just goes so hard. She has an incredible, cold hardness in there that is straight-faced and so cruel and so great. I love her in this season — especially in the third episode, her roller-rink birthday party, I could really watch her all day. She’s like a laser, and that’s thrilling to be around.
Obviously you worked with a lot of people you know in the first season, but who else from the cast did you want to include more of in season two?
Jo Firestone, who plays Maureen, we all love her and she’s so funny. I mean, really everybody in the workplace, we were like, “Let’s just keep going and give them more.” Lolly, too, she was someone who we just saw her breadth of talent. She’s such a good dramatic actress, and in episode five you really get to see her use those chops — and she has an amazing singing voice. The same with John Cameron Mitchell. We wanted him to sing this year. There was just a lot of, like, let’s use our cast to their best strengths and showcase them. I love to write from that place, because it gives you a sense of direction.
You also show Annie in a stable relationship with someone who listens to her complaints and realizes he has to demonstrate how he feels — and then she eventually realizes that maybe he can’t give her what she needs.
I think that’s, to me, the most frightening and interesting storyline. He is a good partner. He really does step up. He is affectionate, he is supportive, he is listening to her and trying to react, and I think they really are in love. I think they do love each other. And that only complicates even more how difficult it would be to even consider leaving someone like that, but still hoping for something better. That’s the challenge within: “Is this enough for me, or do I think that I could have more, that I deserve more?”
What do you see for the future of the show? Do you want to make a third season? Where would you want Annie to go?
I would love to do a third season, and we have so many ideas that I feel like I would be so excited to weave in there. I think part of what I would be excited to show is that yes, she has come to the other side of some of her insecurities, but they do rear their ugly head. I think having to put yourself out there in the dating world is, like, trigger city. And we got into it a little bit this season — like in the sixth episode you see Annie have chub rub — but I would love to go a little deeper on some of the daily indignities of living with a body that sometimes betrays you or that other people have feelings about, and having to suffer those. I just feel like there’s so much more to be said and to be done with it.
Most people probably know you from SNL. What is it like for you to have something that you’ve created aside from SNL that is all yours? What is it like to have that artistic outlet, and what does it make you want to do in the future?
It’s something beautiful to think about. Probably the thing I’m most proud of in my life is my work on Shrill, even just the team we’ve assembled and how hard we all work to make it. And I think it’s actually, in a lot of ways, let me enjoy being on SNL more, because I feel like I got to do the thing that I always dreamed of doing and still do SNL, which is maybe not totally always me, if that makes sense. I also think it lights a fire where it’s like, “This is amazing. This is so fun.” I would love to produce more and write more. I’ve written a movie or two, and I would love to approach those types of projects or help someone like Patti produce their own thing and show them what I’ve learned to help them get their own stuff off the ground. I would love to start doing that. It’s what Amy Poehler, it’s what Tina Fey, it’s what Fred Armisen too, Los Espookys, all [have done]. They’ve taken their incredible skill set, but also their instincts, and shared them with other people. I would love to do that too.
How long do you see yourself on SNL?
I feel like in a lot of ways it’s all I talk about to everyone who will talk to me about it, because I don’t know the answer. I’m kind of searching still. I think at some point I’m going to have a gut feeling of, “Now’s the time.” I don’t really have that yet. I’m still having a lot of fun. But I’m also making a whole other show that I would love to make 10 episodes, 12 episodes of, and it creates these parameters in my life that are difficult. But it’s also probably the greatest joy of my life. If you have an answer for me, I would love to know! I go back and forth. I probably would have a different answer every day.
Is the prospect of being there for another election fun or exhausting?
Both! It’s 50/50. And that’s, I think, where I’m like, “Ooh, I don’t know.” But I love the people there so much, and the idea of not seeing them every day is terrifying to me. So I don’t know. I can’t decide.
The new faces on SNL this season, Bowen Yang and Chloe Fineman, have been well received, but the news of their hiring was overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the third new hire [comedian Shane Gillis was let go days later after his hiring when his racist comments surfaced]. Do you you have any thoughts on the situation and the vetting or not vetting of performers?
I think a massive lesson was learned. Massively. SNL has been auditioning people and going off their audition for almost 50 years. And I think they learned that we’re in a modern era where you have to do more than just judge them by their five minutes. It’s a shame in a lot of ways, because I think to just judge by your five minutes, there’s something very democratic about that. But that’s just not the world we live in anymore. And that’s in part thanks to our president and part thanks to many other things, but I don’t think it mars Bowen and Chloe’s hiring — they’re phenomenal, and they’ve both already proven themselves to be such valuable, incredible and just also wonderful people. That’s part of it. I don’t know. I’m so happy for them, and especially Bowen, because he was a writer last season and we all loved him as a writer, and to see him instantly work is just really gratifying and wonderful. I think we’re just seeing the tip of what he can do. It’s just the beginning.
Comedy seems like a very small, tight-knit community with some very real friendships.
All these people are my friends. Set can be very intense. It’s very long hours. Sometimes you’re shooting overnight. It helps to be with people you really enjoy.
What have you learned from the past year, not just with Shrill, but also in general?
I think I’ve really learned to not be afraid, to be assertive, and that is not my natural instinct. It feels good to make it more of a natural instinct, to just say what I mean and not feel like I have to couch it in sweetness and, you know, “Don’t worry! Feel free to do or not do what I’m about to say!” It’s like, just say it, and I think I’ve gotten a lot better at that. In working on Shrill and being on SNL and having limited time, it makes me cut away some of my own bullshit in the best possible way.
I always think about, what would Lizzo say? I really do want to live my life that way.
Me damn too! I’m trying. I’m trying real damn hard.
It’s nice to have more examples of women who say and do things you never thought about before.
It feels very possible.
Last, can you talk a little bit more about your venture into fashion and designing clothes?
It’s funny, because I’m definitely not a global mogul who’s like, “And now I’m going to do my home line.” I was making these dresses with my friends for myself for red carpets, and the person who was helping us make them was like, “We know how to make this with a factory, and this could be easy.” So it was just kind of a fun thing I did. I don’t know that I’m going to go crazy, but I think we will make more. I am just doing it on my own schedule and independent of the fashion world in a lot of ways. I enjoy it. I love clothes. So to me it’s like, what could be more fun? As much as there are so many more options than there were when I was in high school or even in my early 20s, there’s still not that choice — for us to have 30 stores and regular straight size people to have thousands, I can’t start patting everyone on the back for 30 to 50 stores. Let’s not start celebrating yet. Let’s keep asking for more.
Shrill season two is available to stream in full on Hulu.
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