If you’re looking for a plot-driven series, Shrinking ain’t it. Nope, it’s another dead-spouse, damaged-white-guy show. It seems this is now Jason Segel’s lane. The sad-sack dude just trying to do right, but going off the rails when his very large feelings get in the way. But funny. And also dramatic. Which you know must a be a thing if Segel is ultimately playing the straight man to Harrison Ford’s character. Who has Parkinson’s. Which is not at all funny. Point is, Shrinking — which is a show about three psychiatrists and a few surrounding characters — actually walks that comedy/drama tightrope really well.
First, the dead wife thing. It’s an utter and complete trope. Thing is, the show starts off with Segel’s character, Jimmy, in a total spiral. He’s seemingly hit bottom, drinking, taking massive amounts of narcotics and hanging with sex workers in his pool. That’s our literal intro to Jimmy. A name that I’m not completely buying for him, frankly, but whatever. So we’re set up with the idea that this dude is a complete mess and that we’re now headed into a season of serious debauched craziness, neglect, chaos and probably an O.D. at some point. But by like ten minutes into the first episode, all of these addictions, predilections and nonsense seem to mysteriously evaporate. Even though his daughter says he’s been in this spiral for quite a while since his wife died in a car accident. It’s the one hang-up I have with the writing. It’s as if they shot the pilot with one dude in mind, but then zagged when they realized we didn’t want to watch a whole season of Segel hoovering coke off hookers’ chests and downing Hefty bags of pills every morning. It would have just been too much. So they softened his character considerably, keeping the bummer of his wife’s passing, but completely disappearing his drug and prostitute problem. Which was weird.
That inauspicious initial wobble aside, the series itself was a successful one. I’d like to say that’s all due to the awesome Jessica Williams, but while she is the energetic and comedic center of Shrinking, she’s not the only one doing a really good job here mixing heart-felt emotion with comedic timing. Though she is funny as hell. Even the notoriously grouchy Ford — as Jimmy’s mentor and reluctant friend — plays it light and nimble, leaning into his grouchiness, but with a sly wink and a wounded sense of reluctant camaraderie. These three — the three shrinks in this office — are the main characters, but are also surrounded by terrific performances all around. I mean, even Ted McGinley — who was formerly know as the grim reaper of prime time television series — kills it as the easy-going husband of the nosey neighbor and surrogate mother, Liz (Christa Miller), of Jimmy’s teen daughter, Alice (Lukita Maxwell). Point is, it’s a relatively small cast, but there is a cohesiveness to the performances that all feel like they’re on the same show and understand the tone of what they’re trying to do. We talk about tone a lot when it comes to shows and how even one actor can throw it off. But in the case of this show, it all feels of a piece and the cast feels like it gels really well.
And, yes, I know this all sounds like a mish-mash of nothingness, but it all comes down to a series that doesn’t try to do too much other than to show us a slice of life and entertain us with likable people. Which totally makes sense when you consider it features the same showrunner, Bill Lawrence, as Ted Lasso. And was created/written by both Segel and Ted Lasso’s Brett Goldstein. It has that same kind of positive energy as that show’s Season 1. Which I suppose is the Apple TV+ ethos, but these two series certainly share some DNA. The “plot” is just about the interconnected lives of people dealing with and in different stages of grief and recovery. Which sounds like pretty much every show ever in the 2020s, but when you get the bummer-balance right, it can be pretty great. And, sure, there are the requisite flashback scenes of Jimmy interacting with his dead wife — whose relationship wasn’t necessarily what it seemed on the surface — but the plot itself is much more affirmative than wallowing and regressive in its approach. Which I guess could be construed as a more mainstream approach — and even in the vein of “network” TV — but the writing and acting is way smarter than any of the drivel you’d generally find on some ABC show that tried to do something similar.
I know this is a tired refrain from me lately, but I like that there are still folks out there trying to program non-genre series for adults. Don’t get me wrong, I love my genre stuff, but sometimes these things that amount to more dramatic sitcoms with more naturalistic situations make for pretty great viewing. And while Shrinking isn’t going to change your life, I think they’ve created a world inhabited by a small group of characters that anyone would love to hang with every week for some years to come.