‘Shrinking’ is a feel-good comedy about grief

‘Shrinking’ is a feel-good comedy about grief

Jason Segel and Harrison Ford star in the Apple TV series about a widowed therapist, from the producers of Ted Lasso.

Screen Shot 2021-03-25 at 12.14.54 PM

A good laugh or a good cry — not every show makes you choose. After driving millions of viewers into “laughter through tears” territory with Ted Lasso, executive producer Bill Lawrence and star/writer/co-EP Brett Goldstein deliver more emotion-soaked humor with the Apple TV series Shrinking, a funny, brainy grief-com about the power — and dangers — of radical honesty.

Jimmy (Jason Segel) is a mess, and has been since his wife, Tia (Lilian Bowden), died unexpectedly a year ago. He spends his nights sublimating the pain with booze and pills, leaving his also-grieving teen daughter, Alice (Lukita Maxwell), to be parented by his blunt next-door neighbor, Liz (Christa Miller). During the day, a fried and hungover Jimmy heads to work at the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Center, where he struggles to stay engaged as his regular patients recite their regular complaints. Exhausted and pushed to the limits of decorum by a woman (SNL‘s Heidi Gardner) who’s forever making excuses for her emotionally abusive husband, Jimmy erupts. “Just f—ing leave him!” To his surprise, it works. Despite warnings from his methodical boss Paul (Harrison Ford) and newly divorced colleague Gabby (Jessica Williams), Jimmy decides to continue his “psychological vigilante” approach with his newest patient, Sean (Luke Tennie), a military vet who keeps getting into violent altercations with strangers.

Jimmy and Sean’s “two broken people helping each other heal” arc serves as Shrinking‘s narrative centerpiece, but the show connects a variety of characters in nimble ways. After determining to clean up his act, Jimmy reconnects with his best friend, Brian (Michael Urie, reliably hilarious), a lawyer who, we later learn, has been trying to help Paul with his estate planning for years. But Paul has yet to tell his estranged daughter, Meg (Lily Rabe), the truth about his ailing health — instead, he’s trying to keep Jimmy from ruining his relationship with Alice by counseling her on the sly. Alice, meanwhile, bonds with Sean over their similar reservoirs of tamped-down despair. As she navigates the single life again, Gabby finds a sympathetic ear in Liz, whom she previously wrote off as “such a mom.”

Shrinking Harrison Ford and Lukita Maxwell

Harrison Ford and Lukita Maxwell in ‘Shrinking’

| Credit: Beth Dubber/Apple TV .

Segel, who created Shrinking with Lawrence and Goldstein, has crafted the perfect character for his comedic strengths. Jimmy is almost pathologically flustered, alternating between overbearing enthusiasm and awkward, under-the-breath asides (“I see what I’m doing with my body, I’ll stop, it’s weird”). Segel excels at fidgety physical comedy, and the actor engenders a self-aware sweetness throughout Jimmy’s rocky path to healing. Harrison is an absolute freaking delight as Phil. The 80-year-old icon seems to revel in this curmudgeon phase of his career, and it’s never not funny to hear the actor grumble lines like, “Why do you have so many scrunchies on your lamp?” in his gruff and gravelly baritone. The aforementioned scrunchies belong to Gabby, played with vivacious confidence by Williams.

Though there are some similarities to Ted Lasso — the effusive and unorthodox protagonist, the compassion-centered comedy and heart-swelling moments of melancholy — Shrinking establishes itself as a distinct entity. The show generates the most joy when it lets the extraordinary ensemble pair up in new combinations: Urie bouncing his spirited, quip-machine energy off Harrison’s brusque disdain; Williams and Miller developing Gabby and Liz’s relationship from confrontational clap-backs to conspiratorial pals. And we haven’t even gotten to Ted McGinley — exuding carefree charm as Liz’s put-upon but perpetually pleasant husband — or all-star guests like Neil Flynn and Wendie Malick. 

Like Lasso, Shrinking sometimes heightens the drama unnecessarily in an effort to force an emotional climax, and two characters enter into an ill-conceived romantic entanglement during the second half of the 10-episode season. But this is a promising and unique venture, blending highbrow (shout-out to Carl Jung!) and lowbrow (projectile vomit humor!). The sharp writing offers poignant feels, and the cast seems up for anything. Trust me: Watching Harrison Ford sing his heart out to Sugar Ray is therapeutic. Grade: B

The first two episodes of Shrinking premiere Friday, Jan. 27 on Apple TV .

Related content:

Read More