Binge-r #155: Shrill + The Spy
Streaming Service: SBS on Demand
Availability: All six episodes now streaming
As played with vulnerable heart and engaging wit by Aidy Bryant, Annie Easton is someone who is ready to put aside all the flaws she’s placed on herself at the instigation of others. The budding journalist at the centre of this terrific half-hour comedy doesn’t want to gamely smile while an intrusive personal trainer looks at her plus-size body and condescendingly declares “you can do this”, she doesn’t want her hook-up partner, podcast bro Ryan (Luke Jones), to hide her from his friends, and she doesn’t want passive-aggressive encouragement from her mother, Vera (Julia Sweeney), to lose weight. Annie realises what she truly needs to shed.
What makes Shrill work so well – you will happily rip through these six episodes – is that this change comes from a place of self-reliance and clear-eyed optimism. The everyday realities of being fat are constantly acknowledged in personal and public ways, such as when Annie learns that a pharmacist hasn’t bothered to tell her the morning after pill doesn’t work for women over a certain weight, but bitterness doesn’t linger because Annie refuses to allow herself to be fixed in the viewpoint of others. Backed up by her lesbian housemate and best friend, Fran (Lolly Adefope), she discovers what her life can become.
There are setbacks and stresses, including an online troll stalking her work at a Portland alternative magazine and an entitled Gen-X hipster boss (a note perfect John Cameron Mitchell), but Annie’s desire to change proves to be a telling way to expose the veiled expectations and casually punishing judgments that plus-size women have to endure. Adapted from Lindy West’s 2016 non-fiction book Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, the series has an optimistic feel for change that suits Bryant’s performance. The writing room, which includes West and Bryant, allow for assertion and discovery to take root, not only with Annie but also the initially disappointing Ryan. It’s a deceptively lovely show: warm and funny, astute and defiant. Thankfully a second season is on the way.
THE SPY (Netflix, six episodes): In this Netflix limited series Sacha Baron Cohen thankfully puts his talent for impersonation to a different use, playing Eli Cohen, an Egyptian-born Jewish patriot who infiltrated Syria as a spy for Israel in the early 1960s. Adapted from historic events, the role gives the creator of Ali G and Borat an espionage thriller’s tension instead of a comedy’s freedom. The concept works because Cohen, with a chip on his shoulder and emotional impulses he can’t suppress while living under deep cover, is an unpredictable and unreliable mole. He’s been rushed into the field by his handler, Dan Peleg (Noah Emmerich, revisiting The Americans), and like a comic he improvises and pushes each riff to breaking point. The show’s issue is writer-director Gideon Raff, who recently directed Chris Evans in another Mossad-related thriller, the disappointing film The Red Sea Diving Resort [full review here]. He tells the story in broad strokes – you bet there’s a training montage - that lack the minutiae of a spy’s torment, with lashings of period detail that keep suggesting themes that aren’t evenly examined. It’s a busy, shallow endeavour.
>> Great Show/New Home: A bonus for Stan subscribers – the first season of 2018’s best show, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s brilliant Killing Eve, has arrived on the platform. It’s a deadpan modern masterpiece about female attraction, workplace manners, and murderous motivation [full review here].
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
New on Netflix: World War Z (2013, 116 minutes) is an underrated zombie apocalypse epic, with Brad Pitt racing from one infected country to the next to pursue a cure as the dead mass; with Australian filmmaker James Wan directing, Aquaman (2018, 143 minutes) is a decent undersea comic book blockbuster that benefits from Jason Momoa’s charisma in the title role.
New on SBS on Demand: In Gregory Erdstein’s promising Australian independent comedy That’s Not Me (2017, 82 minutes) a hopeful Melbourne actor, Polly Cuthbert (co-writer Alice Foulcher), has to contend with her twin sister starring in a hit American show, which leads to humour borne of cosmic cruelty and skewered pretensions.
New on Stan: The nostalgia and acceptance is too strong in My Week With Marilyn (2011, 99 minutes) but Michelle Williams finds her own truth as an increasingly fragile Marilyn Monroe; Super (2010, 96 minutes) was an early satire of superhero culture, with Rainn Wilson as a wronged man adopting a masked alter-ego in a violently subversive comedy.
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