Inspired by West’s 2016 book “Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman” and co-created by West, Bryant and showrunner Ali Rushfield, the six-episode first season follows Annie (Bryant) as a low-level writer at a Portland alternative weekly, an echo of West’s time as a writer at Seattle’s The Stranger.
“Shrill” doesn’t shy from the word “fat,” which West, who has written extensively about fat-shaming, said is intentional.
“It has power because we give it power,” West said during a panel Monday, Feb. 11, at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour in Pasadena, California. “It’s no different than ‘tall’ or ‘blond’ or whatever. Reclaiming the term that has been used to hurt us is really powerful.”
Bryant said she was terrified of being labeled fat growing up and she also wants to see the word no longer used as a pejorative.
“I can own it and be comfortable with it and not let it destroy me if I hear it because it’s probably going to be hurled at me forever that I’m on screen,” Bryant said. “I can either let it cut me to my bone or be, ‘Guess what, I am … fat and you have to deal with it,’ and it’s fine.”
Executive producer Elizabeth Banks (“Pitch Perfect”) optioned West’s book and eventually joined forces with Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video to bring the series to fruition. She recalled her first Hollywood meeting with an agent who told her she should “get a boob job” as a way she related to West’s experiences.
“I hope it doesn’t surprise anyone I’m not always comfortable in my own skin either,” Banks said. “I left the meeting. I did not get a boob job and I decided I was going to be happy and comfortable with who I was and that’s what this character of Annie decides for her and that’s something everyone can relate to.”
(Note: This video contains explicit language.)
Banks said two chapters, in particular, in West’s book made her want to adapt the book as a series.
“Lindy presents this really funny series of horrible characters that were all she saw as representation for her as a young woman and we were coming off of three ‘Pitch Perfect’ movies where our co-lead, Rebel Wilson, had a love story and then she became an action superhero and we felt like we could use more of that representation in the world,” Banks said. “I felt like there could be a positive role model in this show for young women. I really felt like having positive, normalizing representation of women’s reproductive rights on television would also be a really good idea.”
“We really wanted to present it as a positive moment in her life,” West said. “She made a decision for her because she knew what was best for her and her body. A lot of times when abortion is presented in media it is as this agonizing, traumatic thing and that’s not the reality for everyone who has an abortion. It was important to us to present it with a different perspective and not focus so much on the shame and regret because she didn’t really feel shame and regret.”
Even as “Shrill” addresses assorted issues, Bryant said the series isn’t singularly focused.
“Our show really isn’t about being fat and it’s not about dieting. It’s not about her body,” Bryant said. “It’s about what any TV show is about: Trying to achieve her goals, her family, her relationships.”
Bryant said in past series with a fat lead, the character’s whole life is oriented around being fat. That’s not the approach they took with “Shrill.”
“We made an effort to give this person a sexual life and a full family and to really treat them with dignity and keep them really grounded,” she said. “It wasn’t this fat festival where you only see her dealing with those issues. She has a full life.”