“I’m sure people maybe are like, ‘An abortion? In the pilot? That feels like a lot,’” Aidy Bryant admits over the phone. The Saturday Night Live star, like her brand new show Shrill, is unapologetically honest about the medical procedure featured in the comedy’s series premiere, “Annie,” which debuts Friday, March 15. Shrill will air in Canada on Crave TV beginning May 3. Yes, the episode’s titular heroine Annie (Bryant) does get an abortion just as Shrill reaches its first 20 minutes. No, the abortion is not shrouded in the agony and insidious mystery of afterschool specials and movies like Dirty Dancing. It’s not — as Bryant knows some viewers will claim — a lot.
The reason for Shrill’s statement-making introduction to Annie’s world comes down to the eponymous memoir that inspires it, Lindy West’s 2016 best-seller — and an immediate need to jumpstart its leading lady’s journey towards fearless self discovery.
“Lindy’s abortion in her book is a huge turning point in her life,” Bryant, who co-wrote Shrill’s scripts with West and showrunner Ali Rushfield, tells Refinery29. “It really was this moment where she was like, ‘I’m in the driver’s seat. I’m not a kid anymore. And ultimately, whatever my life is going to be, it’s in my hands.’ It was sort of undeniable that that’s where we have to start this story.”
When Annie, West’s fictionalized Hulu avatar, gets her abortion, she receives a similar kick in the skater skirt. At the top of the premiere, viewers learn Annie is a woman with a wonderful, happy life. She has a cool-ish career, an amazing best friend named Fran (Lolly Adefope), two loving parents (Julia Sweeney and Home Alone burglar Daniel Stern), and a closet full of covetable clothes. “She doesn’t need a makeover,” as Bryant says.
However, there’s a problem: Ryan (Luka Jones), Annie’s disappointing hookup. Ryan pulls generic fuckboy stunts like making Annie exit his home through a backdoor — effectively hiding her from his roommates — and writing the least sexy texts about sex possible. But beneath all this basic bad behaviour, a far more glaring issue is at play: Annie is allowing Ryan to bypass condoms during sex despite the fact that she isn’t on birth control. “Rawdogging: it’s literally his favourite thing,” Annie tells BFF Fran as an explanation. “How could I take away his favourite thing … He liked me and I didn’t want him to stop.” To keep this unhappy situation going, Annie starts taking the morning after pill to supplement Ryan’s condom-flouting tendencies.
Unfortunately, as Annie finds out at the pilot episode’s midpoint — the Plan B pill doesn’t work for women over 175 pounds.
“We needed a reason why Annie was pregnant,” author and newly minted TV writer Lindy West tells R29. “She’s pregnant because her self-esteem dictates she can’t demand anything of this relationship. She just lets Ryan do whatever he wants because she’s afraid this is her only chance … She [also] got pregnant because the medical community doesn’t think about fat women.”
The failings of Annie’s shaky situationship and emergency contraception lead her to the abortion clinic, a narrative goal for Bryant, West, and the rest of the writing staff to achieve early in the comedy. While Annie wonders whether this pregnancy is her only chance at having a baby, she never “feels like this procedure is going to make her a bad woman,” as West, an executive producer on the series, says. Shrill continues this pragmatic attitude by showing viewers each step of Annie’s procedure — a doctor describes it all with clinical precision — all while Fran holds her hand.
“People are having abortions all the time. We just wanted to tell the truth, for the most part, of what that experience is like for people,” West says, adding that treating the procedure like a taboo isn’t helping anyone. “That means the far right and the people who want to stop access to abortion get to control the narrative. It’s really important to show counter examples that are mundane in this way.”
Annie leaves her Portland clinic embryo-free and with a brand new outlook on what she deserves. “For a lot of women, abortion isn’t this fraught moment in their life,” Aidy Bryant reminds viewers. “They have clarity. And finally things click into place of like, ‘I’ve had this other path. I’ve said no. And I’m choosing to do this with my life.’ I think that is a really empowering experience.”
Annie proves as much. She ends “Annie” embracing her “shitty cunt” abilities, as terrible boss Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell) calls her with reverence, and steps into her future. “I like it,” says Gabe. So should you.