When the third and final season of “Shrill” launches with all episodes streaming May 7 on Hulu, it will be a season of growth for Annie (Aidy Bryant), who sets out into the dating world while also juggling a blossoming writing career. But, while Bryant tells Variety she feels like the three seasons of the half-hour comedy that was inspired by Lindy West’s 2016 memoir “Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman” serve as a “beginning, middle and end” to the show, Annie’s story — and ability to grow — doesn’t truly end when the series finale fades to black.
“Annie ends up in a place where hopefully a lot of people end up if they have a reckoning with their own self-hatred and those kinds of things, where it’s like, ‘OK I have a better handle on this when it started. Does it still rear its ugly head and punch me in the face sometimes? Absolutely, but now I know how to cope with it,” Bryant, who also executive produces, explains. “Part of what this season is is just realizing that there is no end for people who are looking to find their own self-confidence. It is a constant, everyday thing. There isn’t a final, ‘She wins’ or ‘she loses.’”
“Shrill” executive producers Bryant, West and Ali Rushfield, who also serves as showrunner, admit it was not their decision to make the third season the last one, but getting that verdict early meant they could shape the eight episodes in a way that felt satisfying.
“It seemed like there was never a story engine where we wanted to see her become an author or go much further than she did at this point, [so] we covered the areas we wanted to cover,” Rushfield says. “We hit the points of true intimacy being the last area she hadn’t conquered in her life.”
West, for example, wanted to see “Annie achieve a level of professional success that she thought she wanted and then find out that that comes with a lot of consequences that she didn’t expect,” as well as to explore both Annie and Fran (Lolly Adefope) in healthy relationships.
Annie and Fran’s friendship is an integral part of the third and final season, Rushfield says, because “romantic relationships might come and go, but your friend relationships stick around forever, so maybe those are your relationships of a lifetime in a way you never thought might be.”
Not only will the show explore how important those two women are to each other now, but Bryant previews that there will also be flashbacks to “the moment where they really leveled up and became real friends, and I think there’s a nice origin story and then a finality to who they are — who they helped each other become together.”
Preparations for this final season of “Shrill” began in April 2020, when Rushfield was putting her writers’ room back together alongside the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, she recalls not knowing if the virus “was something that was going to last another month or another 10 years,” so she didn’t want to let it affect their storytelling. This meant not only not writing COVID into the scripts — “We have a general rule about not including politics or things that are that topical,” Rushfield shares, noting that they once even had an in-room debate about whether Cleopatra as a pop culture reference — but also not worrying about changing the arc of the season, which was designed to have Annie embarking on new romantic relationships after finally breaking up with Ryan (Luka Jones) in Season 2.
As the weeks of the pandemic turned into months, it became clear they were going to have to produce their season under new health and safety guidelines, though. At this point, West notes, they went back through their scripts and looked at what scenes that were originally set outside or on location could be moved to the show’s standing sets “because it’s a lot harder to shoot on location in COVID.” They also “scaled back” on having big groups in scenes.
Additionally, because this is a season in which Annie is dating more, the writers wrote alts for any scene deemed “intimate” by new COVID-safe standards “in case even just on the day the actor felt uncomfortable and didn’t want to do it,” West says. “We’re not going to force anyone to kiss a stranger!”
The season filmed in Portland, Ore. in the fall of 2020. “Approaching this season in the COVID world, you’re approaching it from the practical point of view,” Bryant says, “but there’s also the emotional part of it, which is checking in a little bit more: ‘Is everybody OK?’ Just being mindful. It became an incredible team effort to protect each other.”
Overall the executive producers still say it feels like a regular season of their show, but one notable change is that there are fewer but “longer and more in-depth” scenes, says Rushfield. “Sometimes in college the best papers were about the book you didn’t read: the limitations made us have to get creative in different ways that were ultimately exciting to what ended up coming out.”