Her work Hulu’s Shrill, the critically acclaimed series starring Aidy Bryan returned for a second season with an arc of growth that finally lets her character Annie make some progress in her personal and professional life. As usual, though, it’s not a smooth road to get there. More like two steps forward, one step back. Repeat.
Season 2 picks up where Season 1 left off, with the ongoing drama of Annie and her troll, Kevin. After a short-lived and impulsive plan to run away with Ryan to the woods, she returns and confronts Kevin at his office with the intention of interviewing him for a story. It’s a power move, and it pays off. Turning her most frustrating and personal dramas into fodder for an article is becoming a pattern with Annie. It suits her.
Unfortunately, without the large platform of The Thorn to publish her writing, Annie’s article doesn’t get much traction. Turns out, freelancing isn’t all she imagined and staff jobs are hard to come by. The closest she comes is an offer of an unpaid internship at The Bridgetown Tribune, but she needs to make money. The woman she’s interviewing with tells her that interns typically take a second job for income, like it’s that easy. It’s just another example of the subtle ways Shrill illustrates the little inequalities and injustices that people bumps up against every day. We rarely confront them, but the flaws in the system are glaring when shown in this light.
Things between Annie’s parents aren’t going great either. Upon returning with Ryan to civilization (their phones having died hours earlier), Annie discovers that her mom has up and left for Vancouver without giving her dad any reason. She eventually returns and things settle down, but confesses to Annie that she went there to visit a long lost boyfriend. Glass houses, Vera. Something pretty much all the characters on Shrill would do well to keep in mind.
Missing her old job and co-workers at The Thorn, Annie attends Ruthie’s Studio 54-themed birthday party at a roller rink. At the party she drinks too much and, full of liquid confidence and regret, she corners Gabe to ask for her job back. He’s far from sober himself after taking drugs with Ruthie and agrees, but not without some gloating and a few actual words of good advise.
She sucks it up like a good sport (who’s also desperate for a job) and returns to work, but a few things have changed since she left. Her former work buddy Amadi is now her boss and there’s a new calendar writer, a super cool guy everyone’s nicknamed Calendar Cody. Even Annie can’t resist his charms. When Ryan starts working in the distribution department she’s clearly upset but doesn’t force the issue. In the end, Annie’s choosing to ignore the huge waving red flags in this situation is what leads to her breakup with Ryan at the end of the season, for what we can only hope is the last time.
Since things seems to be going well with Ryan, Annie figures it’s time for them to have dinner with her parents. Ryan is nervous and it’s kind of sweet, in a Ryan sort of way. Surprisingly, he doesn’t completely blow it, but that’s only because Annie is so focused on her mom’s food issues she barely even notices him. It’s all the same passive-aggressive comments and defensive subtext. Ryan is blind to their dynamic and later tells her he thinks the dinner went well. He says he loves her parents, then shifts the conversation to sex. Poor, clueless Ryan is racking up points in the negative column and doesn’t even know it.
Speaking of family issues, we also got to know Annie’s roommate and best friend Fran (Lolly Adefope) a little better this season. While there were times in Season 1 when Fran seemed like a more self-assured, enlightened version of Annie (despite Annie comparing her to Ryan, ugh), after meeting the rest of Fran’s family at her cousin’s wedding it’s clear she has a lot more baggage than she lets on. We also had to watch her almost miss out on a chance to be with someone who is great for her thanks to her fierce independence. Luckily, she came to her senses in time. Could it be that Fran has finally found the middle ground between playing the field and being stubbornly single?
Meanwhile, Gabe assigns Annie to cover a women’s conference called WAHAM for the paper. The event is a mixed bag. Nuance is one of the things Shrill does really well, and this episode is a great example of the way it refuses to boil complex issues down into easy takes. As Annie notes, there’s a unsavory whiff of exploitation behind the whole conference. There’s the hypocrisy of charging a fortune to attend while claiming to lift up all women. And the unsubtle targeting of insecurities in order to sell a pre-made remedy (one booth actually peddles make-up for your legs). But then Annie runs into some cool, nice women in the ladies’ room who have legitimately gotten a lot out of attending a number of conferences. And Annie realizes that has value too.
Gabe doesn’t love the first draft of her article and calls her into his office. But rather than dressing her down, as expected, he does what a good editor should do and talks her through it until she clarifies her ideas. He helps pull out a more compelling and honest article from her. I haven’t been the biggest Gabe fan so far (that counter article he wrote to Annie’s “Hello, I’m Fat” piece last season really crossed the line) but it’s nice to see the two of them working well together. I wish there were more scenes like it. And maybe his Bowie performance later in the season won me over a little bit too (a nice nod to John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig).
The highlight of the first season was, of course, the pool party where Annie finally felt comfortable in her own skin. Despite her steady growth, there’s no joyful revelation like that this season. The closest thing to it is Gabe’s salon night, a dinner event featuring Portland’s most interesting personalities (and the venue for the previously mentioned musical number). Annie’s only heard about the infamous gatherings before, so she’s floored when Gabe finally invites her. It all makes sense when she finds out that the Thorn‘s publisher, Sheila (guest star Illeana Douglas) is also on the guest list. Gabe is feeling insecure about his job and wants to look like he’s close to his employees.
Annie, still trying desperately to make it work, not only brings Ryan along but agrees to bail early so he can hit a burger-eating competition. At the party, she is absolutely in her element. She even strikes up an easy conversation with a cover artist. When Sheila meets Annie she recognizes her name and enthusiastically praises her work. But Ryan just whines about wanting to leave. He gets his wish when it comes out that they had sex in the server room at work, and that Ryan told his work buddies about it. Mortified and furious, she has it out with him on the sidewalk, then goes back to the party alone.
Now that Annie has more confidence and knows what she wants, their breakup might just stick this time. She’s done, and when Ryan shows up uninvited to Fran’s “FranFest” celebration, Annie tells him so. He gapes at her in disbelief. “What’re you gonna do now? You’re gonna go date other guys?” he scoffs, as if that’s the most ridiculous idea he’s ever heard. But his words have the opposite of their intended effect. “Yeah. That’s exactly what I’m going to do,” she tells him defiantly. The season finale ends with Annie backlit by sparking fireworks, a celebration of her epiphany.
Click here to read our Season 1 recap.