'Shrill' Is Based On Lindy West's Memoir, But The Hulu Series Takes Some Liberties With Her Story
Aidy Bryant's new Hulu series Shrill is about a woman named Annie pursuing what she wants out of life, bad relationships and all. If the story feels familiar, that's probably because Shrill is based on the non-fiction book, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West, but Bryant isn't playing an exact version of West. Instead, the women collaborated with showrunner Alexandra Rushfield to create a show about a woman accepting her body and herself. Many moments in the six-episode Season 1 will be familiar to people who read Shrill. But as West has explained in interviews, what Annie goes through also comes from what some of the writers in the writers' room have experienced in their own lives.
The book Shrill came out in 2016 and is a series of essays documenting moments from West as she navigates the world as a fat woman. Fast Company reported that there was a lot of interest in adapting the book and West took the opportunity to have creative control of this fictionalized adaptation. But, as West explained to Observer, she didn't do this because she was being overly protective about her material. "I didn't have any kind of precious, territorial feelings about making sure this was my life or my story," West said.
"The idea was to make the best TV show we could make, and so some parts of it came from my life and some parts came from Aidy's life. Obviously, once you're in a writers' room, it's totally collaborative and you're pulling from all kinds of people's ideas and experiences."
However, there are certain moments from her memoir that she wanted to be a part of the character Annie's life as well. "There were some tentpoles from the book and from my life that I wanted to make sure were in there: the abortion, her dad being sick, having this contentious relationship with her boss," West told Observer. "I think that's really a catalyst for having to grow up a little bit, which is what Annie's doing in the story. All of that carried through to the show, but we built a fictional world around those things. Annie isn't me, and she's not Aidy. She's a new person we made in the service of making a great show."
Besides Annie not being West, the author made it clear to both the Observer and The A.V. Club that Annie's boss Gabe isn't journalist Dan Savage. As Vogue outlined, Savage was West's boss at the Seattle-based alternative newspaper The Stranger. They publicly debated about how he wrote about and addressed fat people in 2011 through some opinion pieces for the paper. So while viewers will undoubtedly see parallels between that and what Annie goes through with her boss Gabe (played by John Cameron Mitchell) at the Portland-based alt-publication she works at, it's not biographical. West even told Observer that if Savage watches, she hopes that he "does not see himself in this character."
Instead, the characters come from Shrill's diverse writers' room. "It's all people bringing their own experiences to the show. It was important to me to have multiple fat writers on the show besides me and Aidy," West told The A.V. Club, specifically citing Samantha Irby. "Even though, obviously, the framework comes from the book and comes from my experiences, all these characters are built from all of us."
Because the writers' room often was a place where the writers could share all the terrible or rude interactions they've had, West told Fast Company she is actually grateful when Annie's life diverges from her own. For example, West never attended a body-positive pool party, which is the catalyst for Annie's change in mindset. "It was a relief every time we shifted the character another degree away from me because it is really stressful and fraught to have those conversations," West said. "If you tell a particularly good story in the writers' room, then you have to deal with, 'Wait, do I actually want this in the show?' ... It's a minefield."
As she discussed with The A.V. Club, fat women simply living their lives isn't something that is often represented in TV and movies. So Shrill on Hulu was West's chance to fix that. And even though Shrill isn't a straight adaptation of her book, West noted to Fast Company that the projects come from the same idea. "The book and the show are about the particular experience of growing up and living in a body that society told you is too big," she said. And West, Bryant, and their writers are giving a voice to anyone who has ever felt that unacceptance from society with Shrill — and it doesn't get more real than that.