Aidy Bryant talks Shrill's final season: 'There's just still so much work to do in this space'
This weekend, Hulu's Shrill came to an end with Aidy Bryant and Lolly Adefope as Annie and Fran sitting on a park bench, celebrating the fact that while their love lives have hit bumps in the road, they'll still always have each other.
"What I love about those final episodes is that they are so much better than where they started, but they still have a lot to do," Bryant tells EW of the show's two codependent leads. "It's just this healthy mess."
With the series ending, the longtime Saturday Night Live cast member both looks toward the future, and reflects on how its foundational focus on fat acceptance resonated with audiences, explaining, "These ideas, a lot of the stuff around hating your own body, or wanting to not hate your own body, [are] so much a part of anyone with a body's experience. So I just know that it's a theme that's been a part of my life for a long time. And in some ways I'm not ready to say goodbye to it yet."
Read on to learn how Bryant feels about the show's "realistic" ending, what parts of the series she's most proud of, and how Shrill helped her find more value in working at SNL.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you go in knowing this was the final season of Shrill or did a heads up from Hulu come more as you were making it?
AIDY BRYANT: Yeah, it came a little later. Basically, it was like we wrote it, we shot it, and then I think shortly after we shot it, they were like, "Okay, this is it." And so it was more in the editing that we were like, "Okay, let's think about like landing this plane," which in a weird way it actually was like a blessing in disguise because I feel like we didn't end up with any pressure to tie it up in like a big perfect bow at the end, or give her this magic self-confidence trophy or something. It gave us a more grounded, realistic ending to the show, which I really like.
It does feel like it was already in the show's DNA for each season finale to feel like an ending.
Yeah, I don't know. One thing I've really loved about the show is I feel like it's always straddling this tone, this reality of it's never all good and it's never all bad. It's just what life is. And I think that's where the show ends. You're never done, you're never like, "Okay, I am officially self-confident," it's always going to be this thing that kind of rears its head, but you can change how you face it. And yeah, I think that's where it ends up, which feels true to the show.
The first two seasons really build up Annie in a way where we're mostly on her side, whether she's right or wrong, but I'd say this season, she kind of gets to be the antagonist in some situations. Why'd you all want to pursue that this time around, with her getting canceled or her failed first date?
I think there is a fine line between self-confidence and hubris, and when you're trying to learn how to pump yourself up, there's a way that you can kind of veer into self-centeredness. And I think that's a piece of what this show has always been about is like how can you be a thoughtful, good friend or a good partner, all of those things, but also support yourself? And there's also a way where you feel like, "Oh, well I'm just trying my hardest and I have good intentions and that's enough." And I think the reality is that's not enough. You have to be a little more thoughtful than that. And that's why she gets herself in deep with that article. She's literally centering herself and her own experience. And I think it's a lot about intention and realizing that that isn't enough and you've got to pull your head out of your own ass.
It was interesting too, because like we're so in Annie's mindset, and so we've seen the internal work that's happened, but then when those like insecurities go external and she doesn't treat her date played by Cameron Britton very well because she thinks they were only set up together because they're both fat.
Yeah. Like her own internalized fatphobia was turned outward on someone else. And I think that's really what I mean, that's probably my favorite story line of this season is ultimately later in the scene she really has to face that she did the thing that she most feared that someone would do to her while she's out there dating. And that's exactly what we're talking about, where you feel like, "Okay, I'm finally confident," but it's this ever-evolving thing, and there's so much nuance, and there's a lot of layers to the shame and self hatred that keep revealing themselves. It's like this horrible blooming onion.
I remember season one, people were excited to see Lindy Wes's story of confronting her troll dramatized, and now this season there's been headlines about you sharing your experience of a doctor casually suggesting gastric bypass to you.
Well, you know, it's weird because I definitely have complicated feelings about that because I feel like we were able to write about that experience that had happened to both me and to Lindy in this really nuanced way on the show. And then I talked about it in this longform profile in the Washington Post, and over the last couple of days, I've seen it reduced to like a headline that just says "Aidy Bryant's doctors said she needs weight loss surgery," and it's so much more complicated than that. And there's so much pain in that. And it's one of those things where it's like, "Oh, I hoped that Shrill could help move the needle forward on those kinds of conversations," but then to see it reduced to essentially clickbait about my body or my health is so disappointing in a way that I almost have to laugh at because it's like, "Oh, there's just still so much work to do in this space."
Outside of covering body image or fatphobia, are there any other identity or cultural aspects of the show you're really proud of? For example, I loved that you guys got a Nigerian wedding on TV.
Yeah, me too. I'm so proud of the cast, the ensemble, and the way that we were able to write to their strengths. So much of who they are informed who these characters are. And yeah, that Nigerian wedding episode is certainly like one of my crown jewels of the show. I'm so proud of it. It's this beautiful, beautiful culture that we got to see in a really approachable and human way. And to see Ego [Nwodim] and Lolly doing their thing, and Patrice Johnson, who plays Lolly's mom, is fantastic. So that's certainly one.
I'm really proud that we were able to write E.R. [Fightmaster], who's a non-binary comedian I've known from Second City and stuff, into the show because they are just so — everyone who meets, E.R. loves them, you know? And I think they really got to bring that to Em, and there's a real effortlessness there, and it doesn't feel like it's this corny teachable moment on the show. It's just authentic to who they are, and that I feel proud of. And I know E.R. was really proud to represent. So I mean, there's lots of pieces, there's just so many different pieces of it. But I feel like it's all just in the DNA of who our ensemble was and is.
How do you feel about the idea that the love story was Annie and Fran's friendship all along? Does that kind of feel accurate or do you see them finding a way to fix things with their season three partners and settling down with them?
I think that's a totally true and fair assertion about the show. And for us, it was this guiding light of, as we were breaking the stories, looking at Annie's love life, Fran's love life, their work life, their family life, their sense of themselves, but also their relationship to each other. That was something we were always tracking over the three seasons, and it feels very fitting to me that the series starts with them supporting each other and ends with them supporting each other, and pushing each other to grow and evolve.
I feel like the end of the series, I really love that it leaves it open to interpretation about whether you think "Do they end up with their romantic partners?" I don't know, but the one thing you can be certain of is that they end up together. That Fran and Annie are going to navigate these issues together. And I guess that's what I mean about ending the show on this more realistic note. There's more work to be done between the two of them, and also in their other relationships, but you know that they can navigate it because they'll encourage each other, hold each other accountable, and vent to each other just the way they have all these previous seasons.
What are your feelings about, with Shrill ending, there now being one less show representing fat people, and there not really being incoming replacements as far as I know? Are you hoping for more shows that really explore that? And are you working on that?
I don't know. I mean, it's interesting because I know what you mean, that maybe there's not a television show where the fat character is the lead and they're exploring the ideas of fatness, all the good and bad and whatever, but my hope is that there can be just fat characters that exist without having to explore fatness. That would be my dream. And I think, this is the tricky fine line, that also doesn't completely ignore their fatness. That's the tricky nuance that I think is so rare. How do you acknowledge it, respect it, but also not let it be this character's complete defining quality? So I would love to see that. I don't know if I can think of a good example of that existing right now, but I'm hopeful. And if it doesn't come my way, or it doesn't come the public's way, these are all themes that I'm still interested in exploring, but maybe from a different angle.
Shrill was so all consuming, and you got really got to flourish as not just an actor, but as a writer-producer. How has working on Shrill made you a better writer-performer on SNL?
Oh my God. Well in a weird way it's made me value the ability to be incredibly dumb on SNL. An example to me would be on the last show I did a scene with Carey Mulligan about basically just pantyhose spokeswomen, with nothing else other than that. We put so much thought and effort into everything in Shrill to make sure that we're exploring these ideas and the shame and the pain so thoughtfully. And so to then be able to on SNL just write something where someone is just saying pantyhose vending machine, and that's enough, there's something really, really freeing in that. And really wonderful. And then also just that at SNL I'm not the boss. I really am not. I'm just part of the group, and there's a freedom in that too. The lack of responsibility that allows me to just be loose, you know?
Shrill season 3 is now streaming on Hulu.
This interview has been edited and condensed.