Astrid & Lilly Save the World is gay! That’s all I needed to give it a shot so I figured I’d open with that and save you some time if you don’t want the medium plot spoilers and large gay spoilers that are in this review. Shout out to the Autostraddle commenters who alerted me to the existence of this show in the comments of Boobs on Your Tube!
The first episode of Astrid & Lilly Save the World opens with the titular roles standing over an alien body, flinching and yelling as they dissect it, eventually proudly holding up the tongue they extracted. And here’s where I knew one of my favorite themes was true: ordinary people put in extraordinary situations. Now, I love a skilled alien bounty hunter story or a chosen one tale as much as the next nerd, but gosh it’s fun to watch ordinary people with no particular skills or training suddenly find themselves in charge of saving the world.
Of course, the thing about Astrid and Lilly is that the reason they have to save the world is because they’re the ones who put it in danger in the first place. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
First, let’s meet our leading ladies. Astrid wears dark colors and is bold and horny and not afraid to show it. She’s funny and cheerful and loud and I love her. Her counterpart is a bit of the opposite; Lilly is soft and quiet and wears mostly pale pink but Astrid makes her smile and you can tell she scaffolds off her energy and is happy to be pulled out of her shell by her brave best friend. And I would say it’s a spoiler if I told you which one was queer, but in the first episode we learn these things about Lilly: Lilly has two moms, and has posters of Olivia Benson and Jennifer Garner in Alias on her wall. Before we learn she likes girls we know she likes girls, from this and from the fact that she loves Xena.
Despite being opposite in a lot of ways, Astrid and Lilly have a lot in common, too. They are both fat, for one. A thing that doesn’t define them but sure is a thing that the bullies at school won’t let them forget. They also aren’t exactly considered…cool. They have dared to be teenagers with interests other than being aloof so they are socially ostracized, and find themselves trying to do research on what the cool kids do in hopes of infiltrating their inner circle.
They manage to find their way to a party, where we meet some important characters. Tate, the local jock, classic bully with daddy issues. He calls the duo the Pudge Patrol, a name they later decide to reclaim and use for their investigative team of two. Candace, Tate’s girlfriend and resident mean girl. And Valerie, an overdramatic theatre geek who of course shares my name because if you’re on TV and your name is Valerie you’re just a little bit batshit. Which I only take minor offense to.
After the party, Astrid and Lilly decide they’re done being treated like they’re subhuman. They burn the cool kid artifacts they’ve collected and howl at the moon and yell about wanting them all to disappear. Of course, this happens to accidentally open a portal to a demon dimension, and before long a Portal Protector named Brutus arrives to tell them that it’s up to them to close said portal, and that he’ll be their guide along the way. Their Giles, as it were.
The first season so far follows in the footsteps of all my favorite sci-fi shows and starts off with a monster of the week vibe. And Astrid and Lilly need a different body part from each monster to put into a magic orb they can use to close the portal. There’s the Tearjerker, an emo demon who drinks tears like martinis, whose tongue they need. There’s a monster who feeds on teen testosterone, one who manifests everyone’s worst fear, one that inflates everyone’s egos until their heads literally explode. And time after time, Astrid and Lilly save the day; albeit not after a bit of fumbling first.
Astrid and Lilly are armed with a little more than Brutus’s guidance and a plucky attitude though: they also developed some powers. They’re odd powers, to be sure; Astrid’s senses heighten so she can basically smell danger when it’s nearby, and Lilly’s leg cramps up when there’s a monster afoot. Finding their worth this way gives them confidence around school, too. Even though no one else knows what they’re doing, they know, and that’s enough to let them hold their heads a little higher and stand a little taller in the face of the name-calling. Lilly wears her shorts to school, Astrid asks a boy on a date. And the thing is, if bullies aren’t getting a rise out of you, they’re more likely to move on to another target. Plus, Tate finds himself in the arms of a demon more than once and starts to lay off when he realizes probably he’d be monster meat by now if not for them.
One other person who starts to chill out with the name calling is Candace. It turns out Candace and Lilly used to be friends until they weren’t, which Lilly attributes to her gaining weight and Candace becoming popular. But as Lilly starts to blossom and wears shorts to school, Candace takes notice and is drawn to her old friend again. She compliments her shorts, starts confiding in her again. At one point she even stands up to a boy who calls Lilly “dorkapalooza” in the hallway. Lilly joins drama to be closer to her (relatable) and they end up getting so close they run lines together after school. Tate fails Candace as a boyfriend left and right, and Lilly is there to support her and lift her up again every time. Also the play Candace is in is Romeo and Juliet so it’s all extremely gay while they’re rehearsing.
One of the monsters loose on the town is a jack-in-the-box monster who forces people to relive the worst days of their lives. Some are just humiliating, like Valerie farting on stage. But some are darker, like Lilly remembering the day her and Candace stopped being friends. Her moms took her to Candace’s house for a birthday party, and Candace uninvited her, saying she didn’t fit in.
When one of Lilly’s moms bring the girls a snack while they’re running lines, she hands Lilly a cheese plate and Candace a rotten banana. Lilly decides to ask Candace about that birthday party, and asks why she did that. Was it because of how she looks, or because her moms are gay? Candace looks so sad at the very suggestion; she says she thinks Lilly is, and I quote, “so pretty,” and she would never want anyone to think she has a problem with people being queer. She says, “Actually…” but Lilly’s heart is probably pounding in her ears from this confrontation and she’s not listening, not really. She’s too upset, and Candace starts to close back up, saying maybe it’s too late for them to be friends again. She leaves, and Lilly lets her.
But the thing about traumatic memories is that time has a way of distorting them. Or, in this case, monsters do. So Lilly’s memory wasn’t exactly right. It did sort of go down the way she remembered, but it was actually Candace’s super religious mom saying that Lilly’s family aka her two moms didn’t “fit in.” In reality, Candace was just as sad about it as Lilly was, but Lilly was too heartbroken to remember it that way.
But one of the good things about being a teenager is that you can finally, finally start (just start) to try to pry your parents’ fingers off one by one and begin to take control of your life. And Candace is starting to learn the value of shrugging off expectations and making decisions for herself. So she breaks up with her boyfriend and hugs Lilly and they start to flirt in an awkward and adorable way.
In the most recent episode, Episode 107, “Lips,” the duo hits a little bump in their fledgling friendship when one of Candace’s friends calls her a loser and Candace doesn’t say anything. In this episode, the monster of the week is making everyone hornier than that one wall in Sunnydale University.
When Candace ditches Lilly at the school fair for her kissing booth and Astrid keeps running off with her boyfriend, Lilly starts to get frustrated and Astrid feels bad. She tries to reassure Lilly that there’s a dude out there for her, but Lilly says actually it’s not a dude she’s interested in. What’s adorable about this scene is that Astrid’s eyes fully light up and she practically jumps up and down about the fact that Lilly has a crush. The fact that it’s on a girl is great and all but crush! crush! crush! It’s the perfect amount of supportive and I love their friendship so much.
Later, Lilly finds Candace taking a break from her kissing booth and Candace gives her a sip from her flask; she had only signed up for the kissing booth to piss off her mom but her mom was too busy getting busy behind her abstinence booth to notice. Candace admits that the last time she remembers being really happy was when they were little…and still friends. Lilly makes another joke about Candace’s legs, and Candace tells Lilly she’s easy to talk to. She remembers Lilly’s advice about her life and her decisions being her own now and decides to act on it…by kissing Lilly! Right on the mouth! It’s so sweet and pure and lovely.
Lilly has to excuse herself to do monster hunting stuff but can’t tell Candace that so she just says she’ll see her soon and runs away. Later, when Lilly sees Candace again she assumes Candace will want to forget the whole thing but actually Candace came to find her to give her a goodnight kiss (!!). She leans in, but Astrid interrupts and tells the mean girl to shoo; but Lilly tells her to cut it out. Candace says she’ll text Lilly about running more lines and they give each other smiley giggly goodbyes, and Astrid suddenly realizes who Lilly’s crush is and while she still supports Lilly liking girls, she isn’t so sure she’s supportive of her liking THIS girl.
And that’s where we left off. And I love this for so many reasons. I feel seen by both Lilly and Candace, as an awkward, fat “good girl” who grew up in a very Christian environment with a controlling mother. I also think this show has found the sweet spot of fat representation I don’t see very often. I feel like either being fat is often a character’s only characteristic and thus all their storylines revolve around it (annoying, bad, 0 stars), or no one ever mentions it at all (fine, good, not realistic but appreciated.) But especially when it comes to teenagers, it makes sense that it’s something Astrid and Lilly would be thinking and worrying about at least a little, and it’s something bullies would surely use as ammo, so it would be unrealistic to ignore entirely. But it’s not the whole point; it’s not the ONLY reason Astrid and Lilly are considered uncool, and it’s something the two of them go back and forth about caring about.
Astrid is almost always very confident in how she looks, only faltering briefly when she’s with her new boyfriend and realizes she’s never been naked in front of anyone before; but he assures her he’s thought she was hot since the moment he met her and that’s all she needs and they have a very lovely sexy time about it. Candace doesn’t mention Lilly’s weight at all; she’s just Lilly, the same Lilly she’s always known and loved, and when she tells Lilly she thinks she’s pretty she doesn’t say “still” or “despite” or any of the other words that have a bigger impact than their tiny size implies. I often find myself bracing for impact when fat characters are on screen because I am worried about the show being fatphobic in an attempt to be “body positive” (vs having fatphobic bullies, which is acknowledging fatphobia not participating in it), but it wasn’t long into this show before I realized I had relaxed my jaw. Often fat people are delegated to the “fat funny friend” or the quiet friend-therapist for the main character; it’s not every day I get to see someone closer to my size than 99% of the people on TV not only be the main character, but also get the girl. It affected me more than I anticipated.
Once when I was in high school I told a boy I wanted to be an actress someday and he told me I wasn’t hot enough to be the lead role. He said I’d have to be the funny friend; “You’re not that fat,” he quickly “reassured” me when he saw my face fall, “You just have thick thighs.” As someone who was already struggling with body image issues from being a dancer (which, by the way, is why my thighs were so “thick” tyvm) and having a family who constantly loved the “do you really need that cookie” microaggression, that did not feel great! And the thing is, even into adulthood, people love to remind you that you’re fat as if you maybe forgot. New doctors like to tell me I’m obese like they’re telling me they found a rare disease in my blood. So that’s why I like that it’s not completely ignored; because we’re not at a point in society where that’s reality. Instead, it’s showing girls succeeding and winning in ways that have nothing to do with their size. They’re fat, but they’re more than that. They’re also smart and funny and really good friends to each other. And they’re damn good monster hunters! It’s not something that is a major plot point in any given episode (there are demons to fight!) but it comes back now and then. All this to say, I think it’s a good balance.
Here are some other random things that happened that I enjoyed:
- This line, spoken to a demon: “You’re so pathetic you couldn’t even get Val and every monster gets Val.” (I personally don’t love that they started calling Valerie “Val” but that’s a me problem; that line made me laugh anyway.)
- One of the girls’ teachers is a gay man who is married to a local cop and they have a baby together. They occasionally get tangled up in the monster shenanigans but they’re with the majority of the population that sort of writes it off as something non-supernatural, though the cop husband might be starting to catch on.
- The horny monster appeared as a dreamy teen boy named Tristan, and when he set up in the kissing booth, everyone was into him. And I mean everyone. And nothing was said about the fact that boys were kissing him too; no one cared! It was cute. I liked it.
Also, in a point that deserves to stand on is own: according to Wikipedia, “The production hired women and non-binary people in nearly every key creative position, including every single writer and director.” And honestly, it shows! While it’s clear to me that these teen girls are written by my fellow millennials based on a lot of the references, it is also clear to me that many of the people involved were once teen girls. And probably all of them were some kind of outcast in high school; they capture the spirit of having things that get them down but also things that lift them up, the value of that one fellow weird friend, and the nuance of the mean kids once they actually take the time to get to know the nerds.
So, I know I’m late, but I’m glad I got here in time to see how the rest of this Lilly/Candace story plays out and, frankly, to find out if Astrid and Lilly save the world! I’m rooting for those kids! And if you, like me, enjoy sci-fi that is sometimes silly, sometimes cheesy, and always full of heart with badass chicks at the center of the action, you should join me in the adventure that is Astrid & Lilly Save the World.
You can watch Astrid and Lilly Save the World on SYFY on Wednesdays at 10pm EST!