One thing we should never forget about the ritualistic act of watching TV is that sometimes it should be about escaping the world you perform in on a daily basis. Of course, some shows are more effective at this than others, but for some of us, the mere practice of selecting our favorite comfort show and watching a couple of episodes is enough to change our day. When sitcoms were created, the only rule they had to follow was to solve the situation every episode presented. To this day, some of them still work that way, and even if the format's changed drastically, we still recur to TV sitcoms to watch, forget and rest. But have you ever thought if they actually fulfill you and make you feel good?
Apple TV+ went for an extension of a joke a few years ago and produced Ted Lasso, the heartwarming show about the football coach that had to travel overseas and coach a soccer team. A couple of seasons later, it's become the perfect show that allows you to escape your day with a refreshing style of screenwriting that's constantly bringing a smile to your face. How would they follow up? Well, the answer lies in 2023's Shrinking.
After a clunky pilot, you will enter the ideal universe of Jimmy Laird, a grieving therapist who doesn't know how to "advice," but decides enough is enough. He has to make a change, or else he will lose his daughter, his practice, and his sanity. This big situational season of the show gets cut into ten episodes of comedy bliss that make Shrinking Apple's safe bet for 2023.
It's All About the Writing
The show's premise is extremely simple. It tells the story of Jimmy, a therapist who appears to have lost his mojo. He's grieving over his wife who tragically passed away, his own daughter Alice won't even talk to him, and he has no contact with his friends. Jimmy only relies on Gaby, a fellow therapist who's young and vivacious, and on Paul, another therapist who's on the edge of retiring and has a gruff attitude all the time. Oh yeah, and Liz, his neighbor is one of the few people who speaks her mind about Jimmy's inability to cope and be a father to Alice.
One day Jimmy realizes a change is necessary. If he wants his life to continue, he has to do something. Jimmy starts to involve himself in his patients' lives. He even starts spending time with them. Sean, a patient with anger issues and PTSD, gets invited to live in Jimmy's pool house because his family doesn't support him and he still has bursts. When Paul and Gaby find out, they question everything, but they also become entangled with Jimmy's infectious perspective of life which also involves reconnecting with his best friend Brian.
Exactly, pretty simple. And yet, Shrinking becomes a multilayered study on grief, resilience, and individualism, that's cleverly revealed if you look past its screen of contagious comedy and punchlines. How does this work? Well, it's the work of writers and directors that are perfectly in tune with showrunners Bill Lawrence, Jason Segel, and Brett Goldstein (yup, Roy Kent himself).
Every situation, as absurd as it is, is another piece of the puzzle for understanding the basis of the show. This isn't a show about therapists ridiculously jumping the shark because it's a comedy. It's about an idealistic Californian universe where human energy is essential for trauma to fade away if you surround yourself with the right people. The dynamics of their relationships are only possible due to the pace of the show's comedic element: dialogues are extremely funny, but you don't even have time to analyze each of them because the wheel is constantly turning. If you stay in one spot, you will miss the next joke, and it's not worth missing anything.
The Importance of a Great Cast
Shrinking is also proof Apple TV+ will play it safe when casting in their shows. Jason Segel plays the fool as usual, but this is the actor's best role to date as he properly mixes what he does best with a dose of drama that perfectly fits Jimmy's inconsistent behavior. Jessica Williams is Gaby, and the young actor seems tailor-made for the role of a self-confident therapist who has no boundaries when deciding to divorce and keep on living her life. This is best written character of the show.
Supporting characters Liz and Derek are played by Christa Miller and Ted McGinley respectively, and they're the marriage we all wish we had as we enter the last part of our lives. Lukita Maxwell and Luke Tennie are Alice and Sean, and their chemistry works fine to make the audience understand Jimmy can't possibly be in control of his entire universe: that storyline needs to be developed.
However, the best performances of the show are that of Harrison Ford playing Paul and Michael Urie playing Brian. Paul is the cranky old man with far too many secrets. Ford delivers every line the same way he's done in the past, only this time his character demands it. Urie's Brian is a force of nature that could be mistakenly taken for the "gay character that'll make gay jokes," and he's the complete opposite. His energy brings balance to the show in every scene he's in, and thus, he steals the hell out of all of them.
When Was the Last Time a Show Made You Feel Genuinely Happy?
You will laugh. You will cry. Shrinking goes full circle in telling Jimmy's adventures, but also goes off on tangents that will steal the show's main thunder occasionally. And it's okay. Shows need to beat around the bush for a while because it's the only way to keep it all interesting. And this is one of those shows where every second of footage is worth a look and a revisit after a while. The renewal for a second season was almost instantaneous.
Only a handful of TV shows can be as emotionally intelligent as this one. Shrinking will drive you around a couple of situations, and it will always leave you in the same place: letting go isn't only forgetting. It's honoring and paying tribute by trying your best to be happy, even if it's only possible in this version of paradise. Accomplishing this without being excessively optimistic (and ultimately ridiculous and goofy), is very difficult in today's television. This freshness is very characteristic of Shrinking, and hopefully, Season 2 will proceed the same way. Yes, you will cry, but who says tears can't be of laughter?
You can stream Shrinking on Apple TV+.