The arrival of the entire third season of Shrill on Hulu today is bittersweet as it also marks the end of this astutely observed, refreshingly adult, and often touching comedy series.
Having finally broken up with her dud boyfriend Ryan (Luka Jones) at the end of the last season, Annie (Aidy Bryant, who also writes and executive produces) throws herself back into the world of dating in Portland, Oregon, setting her sights on the handsome and charming Nick (Anthony Oberbeck), but although they begin to spend some intimate time together he proves difficult to read.
As Annie wants to broaden the scope of what she writes about at The Thorn away from articles relating to her body image—which frequently go viral—she takes on an assignment to profile a local Oregon group of white supremacist separatists. In a tricky balancing act she has to get close enough for an insightful story at the risk of being seen as going too soft on them, opening herself up to some potential backlash, and eventual self-reflection. Meanwhile, as she grows in self-confidence, a visit to the gynecologist is a confronting reminder of society’s perception of fat women, and Annie takes offense when she’s set up on a blind date by her Thorn colleague Amadi (Ian Owens), believing that she’s been only been paired with the amiable and nervous Will (Cameron Britton) because they’re both fat, perhaps highlighting her own internalized fat-phobia.
As the present day relationship between Annie and her best friend and roommate Fran (Lolly Adefope) becomes strained, in one of the highlights of the season there’s an episode containing some flashback sequences detailing how they first got to know one another at college, enriching our understanding of the dynamics between them. The rapport between Bryant and Adefope as these characters has always been one of the joys of the series, as they convey unvarnished intimacy and unconditional platonic love for one another, with all their human quirks, flaws, and bad-decision making, played with a laidback naturalism, nuance, and effortless charm.
This season also spends time with Fran as she decides to try working as a hairstylist outside her home at a fashionable salon run by a fabulously eccentric manager, played with flair by Bryant’s fellow SNLer Julio Torres, and she becomes determined to be liked by the frosty hairdresser she’s stationed next to. As Fran’s relationship with her partner Em (E.R. Fightmaster) becomes more serious she gets to meet the wealthy parents, while Em is introduced to Fran’s mother in a sweet video call, leading to some interesting conversations about how they each feel about their backgrounds.
John Cameron Mitchell as Gabe, the thorny editor of The Thorn, remains hilariously self-absorbed and oblivious to everyone around him, a state that’s heightened by the imminent publication of his memoir, which he assigns Annie to interview him about, even helpfully providing her with some questions that she should ask him. This allows us to get to know a bit more about Gabe’s backstory and the origins of The Thorn, as we meet one of its co-founders Bongo, played by Portlandia creator and star Fred Armisen.
One of the pleasures of this series has been the casual integration of queer characters and LGBTQ+ cast members over the three seasons, with Fran at its centre being one of the most rich and vibrant lesbian characters on television, and trans actress Patti Harrison (Together Together) as the eternally quirky Ruthie. It’s fun to see more of Ruthie outside the office scenario this season, when she joins Annie, Fran, and Maureen (Jo Firestone) for a drunken night out.
Although a lot of time is spent on the separate dating lives of Annie and Fran this season, it’s their own friendship that remains at the heart of Shrill as they navigate adulthood together. Although the creators and cast didn’t know that this would be the final season when they were making it (as John Cameron Mitchell told us in our interview with him) as the credits roll it’s a conclusion that feels open yet nevertheless heartwarmingly satisfying. I’m going to miss Shrill, and I’m going to miss Annie and Fran’s friendship most of all.
By James Kleinmann
The entire final season of Shrill premieres Friday May 7th on Hulu.