9:00 am EDT, March 21, 2019

‘Shrill,’ ‘Catastrophe,’ and the passion of the brutally honest comedy

With Catastrophe ending and Shrill just beginning, these two comedies prove emotional honesty is the heart of comedic gold.

It may seem arbitrary to place Amazon’s Catastrophe and Hulu’s Shrill opposite each other, but hear me out: these two comedies showcase a brutal emotional honesty that plumbs the depth of compassion and empathy in a world that continually refuses to give back.

Premiering its fourth and final season on March 15, British comedy Catastrophe from actors, writers and creators Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, has become known for its raunchy and blunt humor. The unexpected couple make their relationship work, even when it’s clearly not working, and even when its characters are at their most cruel, the series circles back on a note of loving companionship.

Premiering its first season also on March 15, Shrill was created by Lindy West, adapted from her acclaimed memoir Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, with Ali Rushfield and SNL‘s Aidy Bryant as co-writers. Bryant also stars as Annie, who is positively effervescent in a role tailor-made for her.

Much like Catastrophe‘s Rob and Sharon, when the shit of life hits Annie in the face, she combats it with anger and honesty. And yet in the end, both shows are feel-good.

Aidy Bryant’s Annie is a journalist at a hip Seattle upstart-looking web publication where she’s constantly being undermined by her jerk of a boss, expertly played by John Cameron Mitchell, who basically embodies the concept of gay misogyny.

While people like him orbit Annie in her professional and social settings — oppressively representing what society has forced us to believe is an ideal body standard — she never comes from a place of self-pity, sorrow or misery.

Instead, the show emphasizes quite the opposite. Annie is exuberantly alive and, more importantly, she’s angry at the built-in exclusions she still constantly comes across simply because of her weight. And this anger is what fuels her triumph and her personal transformation into self-actualization as she actively fights against cultural expectations.

It’s this anger — or passion, rather, is a more accurate word here — is the through-line between Shrill and Catastrophe. Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney co-wrote all 24 episodes of the series, and their voice is singular and distinct, a sublime mix of foul-mouthed barbs and heartfelt sentiment.

The conceit from Lindy West, Ali Rushfield and Aidy Bryant for Shrill becomes a shared effort as episodes go along with other writers and an impressive roster of directors that includes Carrie Brownstein (Portlandia), Jesse Peretz (Girls) and Gillian Robespierre (Obvious Child).

Both Shrill and Catastrophe, in their respective current seasons, tap into the moment of today but in uniquely different ways. Annie ends up dealing with a horrible internet troll as the show slyly takes on comment culture and toxic masculinity.

Meanwhile, in Catastrophe, Rob and Sharon’s world is now populated with terrorism fear-mongering, the looming presence of Brexit and mentions of #MeToo. Neither show does such cultural commentary become what the show is about, but instead, it’s simply the worlds these characters are living in. The thrill of both shows is seeing how they navigate and prosper within it.

From an empowering moment at a crosswalk to a stunning pool party scene that effuses pure joy, positivity and inclusion, Annie’s journey in self-respect is only just beginning. Shrill‘s first season manages to pack in a lot in just three short hours across six episodes. Once the credits roll, you get the feeling, although already great, we’ve only seen the cusp of what this series will be able to do.

And while Catastrophe may not have delivered its best season with this fourth and final, it did end up creating a powerful cumulative impact of what the series has been building up to. And the series finale episode itself is a revelatory wonder. We met Rob’s mother back in the first three seasons, played by the late Carrie Fisher. Season four’s final episode finds Sharon and Rob in the states for the first time, in Boston with Rob’s family.

Upon their arrival, however, they learn Rob’s mom has passed. And so the show found a way to acknowledge Carrie Fisher’s death and honor her in a sweet but somber final note. Beyond this, the series’ final scene is a quiet, reflective moment of ambiguity. It’s tough to say goodbye after following their misadventures for four years, but it’s nice knowing there are other emotionally honest comedies joining the fray.

Much like The Other Two coming in to replace the void that Broad City will leave in the wake of its series finale, Shrill feels like a bold new comedy with things on its mind that’s unafraid to say it. It’ll be exciting to see where Lindy West & co. take it from here.

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