- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Apple TV+’s Shrinking is built around a familiar irony: Jason Segel’s Jimmy is a therapist who, as evidenced in an opening scene that sees him downing pills and booze with hired sex workers while his semi-estranged teenage daughter (Lukita Maxwell’s Alice) sleeps upstairs, could probably use some healing himself.
That his acting-out is an expression of unresolved grief gives the dramedy, created by Segel and Ted Lasso‘s Bill Lawrence and Brett Goldstein, enough heft to draw a few tears, while his fumbling attempts to get his life back on track prove good for some giggles. But over the course of its ten-episode season (nine half-hours of which were sent to critics), Shrinking eventually reveals itself to be what a therapist like Jimmy might pinpoint as a consummate people-pleaser: too eager to be liked to risk being honest, even at the expense of undermining its own sense of purpose.
Cast: Jason Segel, Harrison Ford, Jessica Williams, Luke Tennie, Christa Miller, Michael Urie, Lukita Maxwell
Creators: Jason Segel, Bill Lawrence, Brett Goldstein
When we first encounter Jimmy in the pilot (directed by James Ponsoldt), he’s a year into mourning the sudden death of his wife, Tia (Lilan Bowden). In that time, he’s grown so distant from Alice that he’s all but given up raising her, leaving parental tasks like feeding her, chauffeuring her and attending parent-teacher conferences to Liz (Christa Miller), the nosy empty-nester next door. And he’s become so disillusioned with his job that he can barely muster up a “How does that make you feel” in response to their seemingly endless woes. They feel stuck, they reply in a snappy montage of their tedious sessions. So does he.
But when Jimmy finally boils over at one of his regulars, with surprisingly positive results, he’s inspired to throw caution to the wind in all aspects of his life. At work, he begins overstepping with his patients — particularly Sean (Luke Tennie, very endearing), a young Afghanistan vet who also becomes his tenant and his confidant — over the warnings of his fellow therapists, Gaby (Jessica Williams) and Paul (Harrison Ford). Off the clock, he pushes to reconnect with loved ones he’s withdrawn from in recent months, starting with Alice.
Tapping once again into the combination of puppyish eagerness and slightly unhinged intensity that’s defined his most memorable roles, from Freaks and Geeks to How I Met Your Mother to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Segel makes Jimmy a sad sack more endearing than pitiful. But (unsurprisingly) the true highlight of Shrinking‘s star-studded ensemble cast is Ford, wearing his lovable grump role as confidently as Paul does his signature fedora. He delivers some of Shrinking‘s most heartbreaking moments, as when his voice goes raw with vulnerability while trying to speak with his adult daughter (Lily Rabe) about his Parkinson’s diagnosis — and some of its funniest, as when he belts out an off-key rendition of Sugar Ray’s “Every Morning” in the car with Gaby.
Yet the overall impression left by Shrinking is that it’s slightly less than the sum of its admittedly impressive parts. It’s simultaneously too heavy to work as a hangout sitcom a la Cougar Town, and too lightweight to work as an earnest exploration of grief. Its sweet central idea, about the importance of openness and connection in a lonely world, is made cloying by an insistence on glossing over the darkness suggested by that very premise. Its endless affection for Jimmy is touching on one hand, propping him up as an imperfect soul who’s nevertheless worthy of Paul’s guidance, Sean’s trust and Alice’s love. But it also shields Jimmy from consequences more dire than a piano splattered with vomit, which in turn diminishes the stakes and blunts their emotional impact.
Its timidity rings false when directed at the serious issues weighing on Jimmy: Would Alice really be so quick to forgive a father who all but abandoned her when her mother died? At worst, it can feel counterproductive. Jimmy is hardly the first TV therapist to cross some lines with his patients, and the show is self-aware enough to call him out on it: “I feel like an accomplice just listening to you,” Gaby half-jokes. But his wildly intrusive methods — like eavesdropping on one client’s date to offer unsolicited advice — prove so effective that Shrinking almost becomes an argument against therapy. Who needs professional help, the show inadvertently asks, when a codependent buddy can do the job even better?
Shrinking‘s shortcomings feel all the more apparent because Lawrence and Goldstein already have under their belt one deceptively upbeat show that tackles mental health issues with the seriousness they deserve: Ted Lasso. In its second season, its title character (Jason Sudeikis) begins to unpack the anxiety and trauma underlying his sunny demeanor — often in difficult conversations with Dr. Sharon (Sarah Niles).
To its credit, Shrinking acknowledges that Jimmy’s approach may not exactly be healthy — as Paul notes, Jimmy just traded one numbing habit for another when he stopped partying and started getting overly involved in his clients’ lives — and perhaps the series is headed for a similar deepening in its sophomore outing. But so far at least, it seems more interested in maintaining a feel-good tone than it does in grappling with the prickly, unwieldy feelings simmering under the surface.
In that sense, the character Shrinking most resembles is not actually its protagonist but his BFF Brian (Michael Urie), whose oft-repeated motto is “Everything goes my way.” Early in the season, Jimmy points out it’s precisely that attitude that drove a wedge between them after Tia’s death. Brian saw himself as a dose of “human Zoloft” trying to cheer up his pal, which Jimmy now explains invalidated his grief: “You wouldn’t let me be fucking miserable,” he recalls, his voice more sad than angry. Brian listens and seems to take Jimmy’s advice to heart. But maybe it’s Shrinking that really needed to hear it.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day