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Aidy Bryant puts her best self forward in Hulu's finely tuned Shrill


Aidy Bryant stands out in her first starring role. Hulu photo

Premiering: The six-episode Season One begins streaming in its entirety Friday, March 15th on Hulu
Starring: Aidy Bryant, Lolly Adefope, Luka Jones, John Cameron Mitchell, Ian Owens, Julia Sweeney, Daniel Stern
Produced by: Lorne Michaels, Elizabeth Banks, Andrew Singer, Max Handelman, Lindy West, Ali Rushfield

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Unfulfilled and insecure, plus-sized Annie Easton has spent much of her life being thrown for losses.

Still, she’s steadily getting better at weighing her options, which gives the new Hulu comedy Shrill both buoyancy and purpose. Starring Saturday Night Live regular Aidy Bryant in her first top-of-the-credits role, Shrill makes a major first impression in a limited Season One run of just six half-hour episodes. Hulu made all of them available for review, and as of Friday March 15th they’re also ready for your bingeing pleasure.

Adapted from Lindy West’s Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman, the series incarnation neither bellows or grates. Annie (Bryant) is far more sweet than sour, leaving her gay British roommate Fran (Lolly Adefope) to do much of the barking. She’s particularly adamant about the unworthiness of Annie’s layabout boyfriend, Ryan (Luka Jones), who in Episode 1 requires her to exit his abode via the back door after their latest sexual coupling. That way, his two idiot roommates won’t be subjected to her. Fran’s curt assessment of Ryan, in a later episode, goes like this: “He is an ignorant bag of expired meat.”

The relationship between Annie and Ryan, which matures in time, is somewhat reminiscent of the rather grimy early encounters in Girls between Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath and Adam Driver’s Adam Sackler. Except there’s no recurrent nudity on Bryant’s part. Shrill instead can be notably graphic in its language, including the use of a four-letter expletive that begins with a C, not an F.

Annie’s principal nemesis is the ultra-condescending Gabe Parrish (John Cameron Mitchell), proprietor of an alternative newspaper/website called The Weekly Thorn. She works for him, but none too happily. “I love you. You’re a vital and tiny cog,” Gabe tells her after beginning with “Annie, you millennial dumb thing.” Perseverance obviously is required at this particular workplace, where Annie has a sympathetic ear from colleague Amadi (Ian Owens).

SNL maestro Lorne Michaels is the head producer of Shrill, as he has been on numerous occasions for proteges looking to make their marks beyond NBC’s long-entrenched late night star maker.

Michaels didn’t fare very well with Julia Sweeney, whose 1994 It’s Pat feature film was an unmitigated disaster. But a generation later, he’s re-deployed Sweeney to very good effect as Annie’s well-meaning but irksome mother. Another familiar face, Daniel Stern from the Home Alone movies, plays Annie’s good-natured, supportive father, who’s undergoing cancer treatments.

Perhaps none of this sounds terribly inviting. But be assured that Shrill gains its footing en route to being something special by the end of its first season. Annie steadies her course and for a while finds pure bliss, in Episode 4, at an annual pool party thrown by a plus-sized woman exclusively for plus-sized women. At first intending to write about the event, Annie ends up throwing off her inhibitions and getting along very swimmingly until realizing she’s late for a mandatory “Forced Fun” bike-riding gathering of Weekly Thorn employees. Gabe’s incensed by her insubordination, prompting Annie to write an unauthorized blog post -- “Hello, I’m Fat” -- that serves as a declaration of her independence.

The entire cast of Shrill meshes well, with Bryant and Adefope in particular clicking as roomies who sass each other with abandon while also commiserating when needed.

Episode 6, which includes a guest appearance from another current SNL cast member, is both cathartic and rife with possibilities for a more freewheeling, emboldened Annie in Season Two. Nothing’s official yet, but at this point, Hulu must know it has something very much worth holding onto.

GRADE: A-minus

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