Move over Ted Lasso, there’s a new, original, feel-good comedy on Apple TV+, and it is an utter delight. Created by comedy superstars Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Ted Lasso), Brett Goldstein (Ted Lasso), and Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother), Shrinking follows therapist Jimmy Laird (Segel) as he tries to get his life back on track a year after his wife’s (Lilan Bowden) death, and makes some pretty unconventional decisions in the process.
Apple has been marketing the series as about a therapist who, to quote a press release, “starts to break the rules and tell his clients exactly what he thinks”—something that begins when Jimmy erupts on a patient (Heidi Gardner) by telling her that her husband is emotionally abusive, and she needs to leave him. Emboldened by his new strategy, Jimmy continues making big swings, hilariously showing up to a patient’s (Asif Ali) blind date in one episode.
It’s only a starting point, however, for Jimmy’s journey to help his patients and reconnect with his teenage daughter Alice (Lukita Maxwell). It’s actually a relief that Shrinking isn’t going with something so reductive as ‘it turns out all you have to do to be a good therapist is to break the rules.’ Getting overly involved in his patient’s lives has consequences, and the way forward is not simple, but far more nuanced, making for a much better show.
Delivering these complex themes is sharp and witty writing that is gut-busting without ever going for the cheap laugh. Wielding said bitingly funny lines is a spectacular cast. Segel brings huge energy to the role with an incredibly expressive performance. He nails the face acting with what the show terms “sad face,” or as Jimmy refers to it, “resting dead wife face,” but is also endearingly earnest, animatedly exuberant about every small win. He’s the type of character who will get up and do a little victory dance because his daughter decided to open up to him.
Perhaps even more of an attraction than Segel is the supporting cast, full of colorful and quirky characters, each with their own demons to slay. Among them are nosy neighbor, Liz (Christa Miller, Scrubs), who’s been parenting Alice more than Jimmy has over the past year; Jimmy’s exuberant co-worker, and his late wife’s best friend, Gaby (a superb Jessica Williams); his gay best friend Brian (Michael Urie, bringing life to every scene he’s in), who’s so consistently positive that his catchphrase is “everything goes my way”; new patient Sean (Luke Tennie), a young vet struggling to ease back into daily life; and Alice, who’s not exactly pleased that her dad’s been so emotionally absent the past year.
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Each of them is so ridiculously lovable that it’s hard to choose a favorite, but that may have to be Harrison Ford’s character (yes, he’s in this show), Jimmy’s mentor Paul, a grumpy old man who, beneath his get-off-my-lawn demeanor, has a heart of gold. For all of his iconic roles, the Indiana Jones and Star Wars actor hasn’t really done straight-up comedy before, and yet, Ford appears so at home here that fact is hard to believe. Paul has the best one-liners, which are excellently dead-panned by Ford. He’s also the one who usually calls Jimmy on his bullshit, which Jimmy sorely needs, but is grappling with his own issues following being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
As the season unfolds, what develops among these characters is a sort of community, and friendships spring up from the unlikeliest pairs—my favorite being between Paul and Alice as they have regular deep chats to check in with each other. Beyond the initial impetus of Jimmy grieving his wife, this is what gives the show a solid foundation for longevity. I will happily sit down any day to watch these lovely people show up for each other, even when they’re mad at each other. With such a strong ensemble cast, the series does a great job of balancing the different characters, giving each of them significant screen time and their own specific arcs.
The series excellently mines life’s messy corners and curveballs for comedy, finding the funny in the emotionally wrenching. One particularly exceptional episode depicts the trials of getting through a party where most of the guests haven’t seen Jimmy since his wife’s funeral, and can’t help but bring up that fact. The runtimes are generally around 30 minutes, making for snappy episodes that breeze by, every moment packed to the gills with quips, character/plot developments, and deeper, more vulnerable moments. Shrinking does what every comedy wants to achieve: doing something hard, and making it look easy.
Nine out of ten episodes were made available to the press.
Featured image courtesy of Apple TV+
Shrinking premieres on Friday, January 27 on Apple TV+.
'Shrinking' Season 1 - 9.5/10