Shrill closed out its third and final chapter taking a cue from the late, great Whitney Houston as it celebrated the “greatest love of all.” On Friday Hulu dropped all the latest episodes for the original series created by Aidy Bryant, Lindy West and Ali Rushfield, picking right up from Annie’s (Bryant) season two breakup with Ryan (Luka Jones), her undeserving ex-turned-colleague.
Annie has a new lease on life, diving back in to the world of odd hook-ups and cursing out biased medical professionals. From developing her relationship with friendly editorial designer Nick (Anthony Oberbeck) to taking on an ambitious profile for the Weekly Thorn, Shrill season 3 sees its protagonist unapologetically taking charge of her life after years of uncertain politesse and passivity.
Also setting out on a new track is Lolly Adefope’s Fran, who seeks out more permanence in her professional and love lives. After years of styling hair out of the comfort of her own home, Fran decides to give the salon life a try, landing a job at a hip establishment in town. She also takes her relationship with significant other Em (E.R. Fightmaster) to new levels, meeting their uber-wealthy parents and making a special kind of home video.
But even when things seem to be looking up for the inseparable pair of besties, their ambitions catch up with them.
Annie gets cancelled for a feature that unintentionally paints a racist separatist clan in a sympathetic light. To top off her latest editorial troubles, Nick fails to reciprocate her feelings and Annie later oversteps her boundaries with new beau Will(Cameron Britton), moving way too fast for his liking. Additionally, Fran and Em’s relationship is on the rocks, leaving the two best friends single and finding comfort and love in each others’ company – just as they did in their college days and in the pilot, where viewers first met the duo.
“It’s been the two of us for so long and it’s always been the only thing that felt really good and in my mind you’re always my first call and the first person I want to tell everything to,” Annie tells Fran, as they share a bottle of champagne and cast their gaze on the Fremont Bridge.
After agreeing that any change in their dynamic scares her, Fran admits, “This is the greatest love of all time.”
Bryant, West and Rushfield spoke to Deadline ahead of the season three debut about the fate of Annie and Fran, how the Covid-19 pandemic influenced the final chapter and more. Read the full interview, which has been edited for length and clarity, below.
DEADLINE: After production wrapped, the Shrill team learned that season three would be its last. How did that news impact your plans for and intentions series finale?
BRYANT: It was kind of a cool after-the-fact thing where we were like, “Okay, we have this footage. We have this story that we wrote potentially to go onward but now it’s ending and how can we try and make that satisfying through editing?” I think, very luckily, we’re super happy with it as an ending, and we really like how it landed in this more realistic place, as opposed to feeling like we had to tie it up in this perfect bow and give Annie this beautiful sunset.
I just find it more realistic and authentic, like the work’s not over.
DEADLINE: How did the ongoing coronavirus pandemic affect what we do or don’t see on-screen?
BRYANT: We had far less party scenes or far less big groups, them going on a crazy adventure into a huge room of people or a concert. Those things just weren’t going to happen because it wasn’t safe. So, I think in many ways it gave us this really intimate season that is built around really emotional two-person scenes or people connecting.
FaceTime calls with the Fran’s mom and Annie’s parents was something that seemed like this great middle ground to make our actors feel really comfortable, especially around travel. It also forces Annie to stand on her own two feet. The nice part of this is it gave us these weird parameters that suddenly we had to write within.
WEST: We also did the writer’s room on Zoom early in the pandemic. It worked shockingly well. Early in the pandemic, when everything was so scary and everything was so uncertain, it was really therapeutic, at least for me – to have something that felt normal to do every day and come together and be creative with people that you really love. I kind of feel like you can feel some of that love and joy in the writing. I think it was a really soothing presence in at least my life.
RUSHFIELD: The production got moved later. It’s always in the summer and it got moved later into the fall and winter so the look is totally different because Portland has such weather. It’s a much grayer fall feeling than it ever was. I feel like that was a nice difference that wasn’t going to happen if we had just done it the way we’d done it before.
DEADLINE: Season three takes on a range of timely topics, from cancel culture to the Black Lives Matter movement – almost everything but the pandemic. How did you decide which topics to take on?
WEST: At the very beginning we talked for five seconds about whether the pandemic is going to happen in the show. We just all immediately rejected that idea especially because at that time we had no idea what the pandemic was going to look like.
We did write it last summer and everyone was thinking a lot about race and a lot about white supremacy and the ways especially that even well-meaning white people just fail extravagantly. Annie really thinks of herself as the good kind of white person and the kind of person who is on the right side of things. Especially as she’s getting more ambitious at work it felt really in keeping with her character, who also is often kind of selfish and unaware and impulsive, to have her make this big, impulsive mistake where she’s really trying to push her career forward. She’s really not an experienced enough journalist to even perceive that this story is not for her.
It’s a really big and really realistic professional pitfall that just felt like it fit. We worked so hard on making sure that we navigated it properly so that we’re not making the same mistakes that Annie is making.
BRYANT: Those ideas were in the air and so naturally they came into the scripts. I don’t think we examined cancel culture as a whole but we did this sort of anecdotal version about centering whiteness and seeing white as normal or those kinds of well-meaning white people who think that they’re there for good and how self-centered that is. I think that’s something that this character has kind of struggled with in a lot of ways, of feeling like she’s a good person who’s trying hard and so that gives her the right to do X, Y, and Z. It often doesn’t.
DEADLINE: Season three features more of Fran’s professional and romantic lives. Why have her take more of a spotlight and how does that fit into her final arc?
WEST: Season one was so Annie focused because it was a short season and we were establishing the show. I remember when we got to season two and we got to have eight episodes how excited all of us were to get to spend a little more time with Fran and really open up her life and center her a little bit more. This is part of the work of dismantling whiteness. Fran doesn’t exist just to further Annie’s character development. It’s really important to not fall into that trope when you’re making television that’s supposedly thoughtful and socially responsible. Also, Fran’s just an incredible character and Lolly’s an incredible performer.
BRYANT: It balances the story so much more. It brings this whole other light to it, particularly because Lolly is so incredible, so it’s just so easy. It doesn’t take much effort to give her something that she can carry. I think I feel so excited about kind of her storyline with Em because I think it’s just sort of a sweet and honest, complicated look at what it is like to try and open yourself up to someone after you’ve been protective of yourself for so long. Lolly plays so beautifully all the nuance of that.
DEADLINE: Season three also sees Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell) become this hero for the Weekly Thorn, which is on the verge of shutting down. Why include a redemption arc for Gabe?
WEST: We all have really loved Gabe from the beginning. At the beginning he was an antagonist but we always wanted the show to be very grounded. In real life, human beings are complicated and are not just villainous or good. Gabe is just such a dynamic, brilliant character. John Cameron Mitchell is so special in that role, and brought so much of his own to the character. I think a redemption arc for Gabe was always inevitable because he is really a good-hearted character, even though he is such a chaotic wildcard.
BRYANT: I do believe even from the first season there’s something he sees in Annie and there’s a connection there. I do think he wants the best for his little scrappy team, even though he kind of shows it in a kookie way. Everybody who wrote on the show had some version of a relationship like that with a mentor who is someone who has totally changed your life and guided you but also they drive you crazy and you don’t quite get each other. It felt like the relatable place to build this relationship from so that it is always a push and pull.
I love filling out his story of his husband and his band and all these other pieces of who he is. I think it’s really fun that we get to see he wasn’t always like this. He used to be the kind of radical one on the front lines pushing the envelope and now he’s kind of trying to get back to that. I think it’s kind of an exciting future that we don’t get to see where we see Annie and Gabe and Amadi (Ian Owens) putting their heads together to revamp this paper. I think it’s an exciting place to leave it where there’s some hope there for them.
DEADLINE: Why include the unfortunate trend of local newsroom closures?
WEST: It’s just reality and it would have been very unrealistic to pretend like everything’s chugging along at the Thorn and they’re over 100 pages every week. That’s just not what’s happening in media right now, especially in print. It just would have felt very artificial to not address it. But then also it is a comedy show and you don’t want to dissolve this big workplace world that you’ve built. We had to figure out a fun way to make that realistic without what would probably happen, which is the Thorn shutting down and being liquidated and everyone losing their jobs.
DEADLINE: Shrill comes full circle with Annie and Fran having each others’ backs, as they did in the very first episode and throughout the season. How did you arrive at that ending?
BRYANT: It’s something we’ve talked about in making these final moments of the show. I think instead of sort of giving them this final moment where they cheers and it’s like ‘to us’ and it’s over, we felt like we were leaving it with space to write another season as far as Annie’s going to help takeover the paper. They have these relationships that are really strong but they’re kind of self-sabotaging on some level. How can they get over that insecurity humps for both of them?
There was more to explore but I think in a cool way, through editing, we really did land in a place where it’s still that same thesis but with a greater finality. These are two characters you’ve really watched evolve from the pilot to where we land, and they still have more work to do. It’s not over and that’s the reality of anyone with a body or self-confidence issue.
It’s not something that you win at the end. It’s always something that’s going to day-to-day change and feel different as things arise.
RUSHFIELD: We talked about that beach episode part maybe being the end. Just them on the beach together or different things like that. This was always the kind of way the end was. We had no knowledge that it was the end of the series, so it couldn’t be thought of that way. There were two season finales where Annie’s really doing “f**k you’s”. So, to have one that was more sad and quiet seemed like a good idea.
DEADLINE: Where would a hypothetical fourth season pick up after this season?
RUSHFIELD: It would be more of Annie trying to deal with her having been canceled, that situation with the article that she wrote, and trying to just do what’s right after that. I guess seeing where her relationship with Will was going to go, if it was going to be long-term or if that was going to be it, and also seeing what happened with Fran and Em as well.
DEADLINE: If you had the chance to shoot another finale free of the Covid-19 pandemic and without time or budget limits, what would it look like?
BRYANT: I’m so content with this, it’s hard to reimagine something that is budget free. I don’t even know. What, we see them riding on million dollar horses or something? I think one thing that I’m super proud of about the show is we’ve made a huge effort to just keep it really grounded. Even though it’s comedy there’s a lot of realistic heart and pretty practical thought in it. It ends with two friends on a bench because to me, that’s what life ends up being all about – who’s next to you on your bench at the end of the day.
WEST: I would maybe keep the finale as is but take the money and throw another pool party. Not shoot it. Just have it.
DEADLINE: Where do you think Fran and Annie, both individually and as friends, will be in five to ten years? What about their love lives?
WEST: I think Fran and Em make it. I think Annie and Will don’t make it. I would say Annie really jumps into her career and maybe stops trying to find a boyfriend and then eventually a boyfriend finds her. I think the viewers want Annie to end up with Lamar.
BRYANT:That would be my same assessment. I think Fran and Em could find some kind of visiting London experience and then maybe she’s a little more open to building out her career in different cities. I think it’s only onward and upward for them.
RUSHFIELD: I wouldn’t imagine Annie would be at the Thorn in 10 years but she would probably have written a book called Shrill.
DEADLINE: Shrill introduced so many eccentric characters, from Jo Firestone’s Maureen to Patti Harrison’s Ruthie. Whose spinoff would you like to watch?
BRYANT:I would really watch a spinoff of just about any character. I could see a Maureen spinoff. I could see a Ruthie spinoff, for sure. Gabe, absolutely. Ready to dive into his world. Fran spinoff would absolutely be a dream, and an Amadi family sitcom.
WEST: I’ve got to say my stealth favorite character is of course Andy (Scott Enghal) from the newsroom. I would watch an Andy sitcom for the rest of my life with his nympho wife.
RUSHFIELD: Probably one on the home life of Gabe, his husband and Ruthie. I think that would be fun to see.
DEADLINE: Lindy, how does wrapping this series compare to finishing your memoir?
WEST: It’s interesting, my memoir came out five years ago next week, which is very weird. It’s similar but different because the process is so different. The memoir, I was at such a different place in my life. I was very uncertain and terrified and I had just done this big thing all by myself. I had never put a book out before. It was very much a threshold of the rest of my life.
This is really closing a chapter, which I guess is probably its own kind of threshold so who knows what happens next. I just feel really, really deeply proud of the show. It still feels very surreal that it even happened at all.
DEADLINE: What do you think are some of the rewards of bringing your book to screen?
WEST: I mean the book is very personal and very vulnerable. It’s really about all of the things that I needed when I was growing up that weren’t provided to me as a young fat woman – representation, dignity, respect and the promise of actual healthy romantic love. All of that stuff just felt completely out of reach and I felt very convinced that I did not deserve it. There’s just so much stuff in this show that’s so deeply important to me and to bring it to such a big audience and also put it into a visual medium, which I think reaches people in a different way and more visceral way, it’s just what the whole thing is about.
I truly didn’t write the book to make money or to be famous or write a TV show. I wrote it because I was really distressed about all of these things and I really care about these issues and I care about other fat people and I care about women. It’s so rewarding to make something, some small contribution to hopefully push progress forward.
DEADLINE: Aidy, you carried this series as a star, co-creator, executive producer and sometimes director. What has your time on Shrill taught you about yourself professionally and personally?
BRYANT: It’s probably been the most life-changing experience for me as far as feeling like I can do this. I also to get to do it with collaborators who I really am so inspired by and have the same goals.
I started at SNL when I was 25 and I had never been on camera before. Now I’m here almost nine years later. I know so much more, but beyond that I think it really taught me that I know how to make television and that I can do it in a way that creates a caring and respectful, kind environment. This was a show that I really wish I could have seen when I was 15 years old. So, to feel like we got to do that and really see it through is probably the greatest honor of my life.
DEADLINE: What is the one main takeaway from your time on the series?
WEST: I came into this project in a different place, in a different career. I also gained the confidence that I can make television from working on this show, and it was really empowering and really an incredible learning experience for me. I hope that when other creatives watch the show that it’s an example of the fact that you can make a comedy show that is not cruel and is not exploitative. It really is possible to do that without sacrificing comedy. I think our show is really funny and it’s really humane and it’s really thoughtful. I hope that that stands as a counter example to people who want to argue that that’s not possible because it is and we did it.
RUSHFIELD: When working with Ali and Lindy, I learned about the point of view of people in their 30’s and younger, them going into the world that I wouldn’t have maybe known about before – about race and the way the world is seen now and the way things are changing. I just feel like Lindy particularly is an activist in terms of that. She just taught me a lot of stuff I didn’t know.
DEADLINE: What’s next for the Shrill trio?
RUSHFIELD: I’m doing this stop motion animation show for HBO Max right now so that’s just a whole other kind of thing. That’s to come out around the holidays.
BRYANT: We don’t have any plans now. I mean I would jump at the chance to work with anyone who has worked on Shrill again. It’s been a totally formative and thrilling experience for sure.
WEST: The Ruthie and Maureen roommates spinoff.
BRYANT: That’s on the horizon.