Seattle-based writer Lindy West is co-creator and co-writer of “Shrill,” which debuts its six-episode first season March 15 on Hulu. The TV series is adapted from West's collection of essays based on her own experiences, including at Seattle alternative newspaper The Stranger.
Some writers who sell their book rights just cash a check, but West became co-creator and co-writer of “Shrill,” which debuts its six-episode first season Friday, March 15.
“I always my whole life wanted to work in television and so it was really like a dream opportunity when my agent told me that people were interested in optioning the book for TV,” West says. “I had friends that wrote for TV and I sort of idly asked them, is there a track that gets you there? … It just felt out of reach. And so instead I just stayed on my own path, which was writing for newspapers and magazines and eventually writing this book, and then it sort of took me on this circuitous route to the same spot, which just feels like a miracle to me.”
But West was initially uncertain how her collection of essays, based on her own experiences, including at Seattle alternative newspaper The Stranger, could be turned into a story that fit the expectations of the medium.
“It’s hard to conceive of your life as being interesting enough for a television show,” she says. “And of course, [the Hulu series is] not my life, you fictionalize it. And you punch it up, and you make it into a narrative arc, which is not what real life is like, but I didn’t realize that that would be an option.”
West says she always wanted to be involved in the series because of the issues around feminism and fat acceptance at play in “Shrill.”
“This stuff is really important to me. … And it’s something that’s really easy to [screw] up,” she says. “I really, really wanted to be there to do my best to make sure that we were getting things right.”
(Note: This video contains explicit language.)
Executive producer Elizabeth Banks — known for starring in “The Hunger Games” and directing “Pitch Perfect 2” — optioned “Shrill” and thought of “Saturday Night Live” star Aidy Bryant for the lead role not long after Banks was an “SNL” guest host.
“SNL” executive producer Lorne Michaels’ company, Broadway Video, also became involved in “Shrill” with Portland selected as the show’s setting and filming location.
“That’s where Broadway Video came in really handy in that they had done ‘Portlandia’ in Portland and we had a crew built in there,” Banks says, “so we ended up in Portland partially for financial reasons and partially because we had a really built-in base there to go off of.”
Showrunner Ali Rushfield started working on “Shrill” initially with just West before Bryant was cast.
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“There was a certain kind of character we drew that evolved … when Aidy became part of it because then you see who the person actually is [playing the role],” Rushfield says. “The character we started with was more messy and didn’t pay her bills. [Aidy] said, ‘I don’t want the trope of the fat slob, I want to see a put together person,’ someone who knows how to manage her life. And she’s more of a sunny personality and a positive person.”
West, of course, brought her background working at The Stranger, where she started as an intern before becoming film critic (on “Shrill,” Bryant’s Annie is an assistant calendar editor at Portland’s Weekly Thorn).
“The vibe of the offices is chillingly similar,” West says of the Weekly Thorn set compared to The Stranger offices. “I walked through that set and I was like, how did they do this? I feel like I’m at work and my column is late and I was instantly stressed but also totally overjoyed. It’s just perfect, that set.”
As for John Cameron Mitchell’s role of Gabe, Annie’s boss, West said the character is significantly different from Dan Savage, editorial director at The Stranger.
“Gabe is not Dan. Annie has this similar conflict with her boss, but John made that character his own,” West says of Gabe, who is a gay former grunge rocker, not a sex columnist like Savage. “He had lots of ideas about that character’s background and about the dialogue. … It’s fictionalized. Some of the issues are the same, but the people dealing with them are different.
“So it’s The Stranger and it’s not The Stranger,” West says, laughing, before quickly adding emphatically, “it’s not The Stranger. It’s absolutely not The Stranger. It is a mildly, maybe similar alt weekly in a different city.”
“Shrill” debuts March 15 on Hulu.