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Interview: Writer Lindy West on ‘Shrill’ Becoming a Show and a Fantastic Journey

In 2016, Lindy West published the book Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman. Three years later, Shrill premiered as a show on Hulu starring Aidy Bryant as an overweight journalist whose weight was the one part of her life that she wasn’t interested in changing. This Friday, that underrated comedy comes to a close with the premiere of its third and final season.

Awards Radar had the opportunity to talk to the wonderfully sweet and genuine West about what it’s like to be a TV writer, what she wanted from the show, and how she feels it best represents something she would have wanted to see on TV growing up.

Q: I’m a big fan of the show. I’m almost done with season three, but I’m trying to savor it and keep some of it for later. But it’s really great, I’ve enjoyed it a lot.

A: Thank you!

Q: This show is an adaptation of your book. When you were writing it, did you ever think that was going to happen?

A: No! Absolutely not. Although I did put a part in the book where I was like, also, I always dreamed of being a TV writer, and I slightly hoped that some sort of TV person would read that, and be like, I should give her a show. I didn’t expect that it would be a show based on that book, because the book is a series of essays about my feelings, and I never conceived that you could turn that into a show. But then of course once people started asking me about the option, I was like, actually, I can see a whole thing, and then it happened. But yeah, I never – never – expected for this to happen, and it still feels totally surreal. But it’s a very cool ride.

Q: So what it is like to be a TV writer?

A: It’s so fun! Lives up to the hype! Yeah. I don’t know. It really is so different from being a print writer, especially now that I don’t work for a newspaper anymore. I don’t have any colleagues. I’m just alone. You see me right now. This is my desk, in my bedroom, and I sit here and I write by myself. To get to move into TV, which is truly a massive, profound collaboration with so many people who are so brilliant and have so many skill sets that I don’t have, and to get to take a kernel of an idea and turn it over to people that you trust who are so creative and thoughtful, and have an art department come up with these details that you would never come up with. The whole process is incredible. The writers’ room is exactly what I wanted it to be. It’s a group of brilliant, funny people sitting around coming up with ideas together and riffing and laughing and telling stories, and figuring out the best way to tell a story. It’s just so inspiring and so fun. So, so, so fun. I love it. Thumbs up.

Q: Do you feel that season three properly wraps up Annie’s arc, or would you have liked to see this show continue forever and ever?

A: Not forever and ever. Aidy, Ali, and I talked from the very beginning. We never wanted this to be a show that went into seventeen seasons or something. We definitely envisioned it as a tight, self-contained little show. I think we would have happily done one or two more seasons, but I certainly don’t feel like devastated. It would have been fun to keep going, but I’m really happy with our three seasons. We found out we weren’t coming back after it was written and mostly shot, so there wasn’t a ton we can do to change the ending. I honestly really like it – it leaves Annie and Fran, well, I guess you haven’t seen it yet, so I won’t spoil it. It lands in a really ambiguous but very grounded place that I think feels really relatable. It ends on their friendship and the importance of their friendship. The way that your platonic friends keep you grounded in who you are. I think that it was sort of accidental in the way that we didn’t know that it was ending. I like it – I’m really happy with it. It feels like a big grand finale farewell wouldn’t have quite been right for this show, and there would have been a temptation to be like, [narrator voice] “And then Annie got married!” I don’t know, that’s not real. The show’s always been really grounded, and I like it.

Q: How true to life do you think the show has remained as you’ve gone on and developed the characters? Does it look like you originally envisioned?

A: Yeah. I mean, it’s not true to my life, exactly. It’s a fictional character that we developed as a collective. There are certain parts of my life that are still in there, the working at a weekly newspaper, although weekly newspapers don’t exactly exist anymore. That’s from my life, and some of the relationships still kind of mirror things from my life. It’s definitely grown into itself, and that has been a really beautiful thing to watch. Especially once you have actors inhabiting these roles, you can’t help but follow the actor a little bit when you’re writing the character, so that’s been incredibly fun. Also a relief to move away from my real life, which is really, really vulnerable. It’s just been nothing but rewarding to watch it come alive and watch the actors take control of their characters. It’s been incredible. In terms of where I wanted it to go, what I pitched originally was, I just want to make a show about a fat woman – I said this in the pitch meeting – at no point in the show does she step on a scale and look down and sigh. This is not a makeover show. I just wanted to make a show about a relatable fat character who has relationships, she has sex, she has fun, she has a career, she has ambitions. All the things fat people don’t get to be in media, because we’re so relentlessly flattened into a weight loss narrative. That’s absolutely what we did. I’m so, so proud.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about the audience reaction over the course of the show?

A: I’m gratified by how much people love it. And I don’t mean how much people love it in a way that strokes my ego. I made it because I used to be a fat teenager who didn’t see anyone like herself in media. It truly is important to me to be that representation I didn’t have. Every single time I get an e-mail from someone saying, this helped me, I felt seen, I felt less alone, that just means so much to me. You can’t ask for better than that. I’m constantly surprised by the scale of television. I get an e-mail every single day from someone. We haven’t put a new season out in a year. That’s the whole reason why I make anything. It’s definitely, I don’t know if it surprised me because I knew what people need because I needed it. I kind of knew, at least I hoped that people would relate to it in the way that I do, and they have, which means a lot.

Q: Do you know what’s next for you?

A: No, not really. I mean, I have a couple things that I’m working on, but I’m kind of in the first pause of my life in a really long time. I’m in a really privileged moment where I get to look around and decide what’s next. I kind of don’t know yet. I’m working on a book proposal, I’m working on a couple TV pitches. My husband and I wrote an episode of an anthology show for Shonda Rhimes called Notes on Love, which will be on Netflix at some point, I don’t know when. That was fun, really fun. I’m kind of just taking a breath and making some choices. I’m excited.

Q: Thank you for speaking with me! I’m looking forward to the ending of the show.

A: Thank you, I hope you like it!

Season three of Shrill premieres on Hulu on Friday, May 7th.

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Written by Abe Friedtanzer

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