“Shrinking” is the bastard love child of “Ted Lasso” and “Scrubs.” The funny, self-aware, wonderfully cast workplace comedy centers on a small Pasadena psychological practice. From there, it moves out in spokes into the family lives, mental obsessions and dysfunction of its three main shrinks: Jason Segel, Jessica Williams and, yes, Harrison Ford.
Laughter, life lessons, hugs, jabs and serial ridiculous situations cram this ten-part comedy. “Shrinking” begins with an absurd meet-awkward between audience and therapist. We encounter central mensch-meshuggah Jimmy (Jason Segel at his most neurotic teddy bearish) in his own backyard.
The mind-doctor has reached rock bottom. He’s snorting a mix of psychiatric drugs (shrink, self-medicate) while hanging by his backyard pool at 3 a.m., blaring music with two young sex workers mermaid-ing in the chlorinated water nearby. He’s momentarily blissed, high – and a really crappy clueless neighbor in his pricy South Pasadena neighborhood.
The sad truth is that Jimmy’s wife has died and he can’t get up.
And the widower needs to gather his shit because his sensible soccer-playing 15-year-old Alice (Lukita Maxwell) really needs him. And so do his psychiatric partners and patients. But our man, who also co-created the show with Brett Goldstein (“Ted Lasso”) and Bill Lawrence (“Ted Lasso,” “Scrubs”), is experiencing compassion burnout. He’s become impatient with his kvetchy patients who are stuck, stuck, stuck.
And, so, Jimmy, in his own struggle to become unstuck from grief, starts delivering unorthodox, even unethical, solutions to his clients while breaking the fourth wall between himself and those sitting opposite on the couch.
A delightful Heidi Gardner is a woman complaining endlessly about her abusive husband. Jimmy gives her an ultimatum: it’s him or me. And the patient dumps her husband and heads off to see her sister in Vancouver.
A war veteran with PTSD (a rock-solid Luke Tennie) has court-mandated visits because he keeps getting in brutal bar fights. Jimmy’s solution? Accompanying the young man to a boxing gym where he encourages him to work out his anger with his fists. When the young man gets arrested for brawling again, this time protecting his therapist at Alice’s soccer practice, Jimmy invites the 22-year-old to live in his pool house.
This is wrong in so many ways – but, maybe, also right in “Shrinking” world, where unconventional treatments have unconventional results that can be as hilarious as they are disastrous. And occasionally healing.
When these treatments appear to bear fruit, Jimmy suddenly feels empowered – even though he’s crossed the professional line and is heading for the opposite team’s goal. His meddling is going to come back and bite him big time. He’s our Ted (Jason Sudeikis), our J.D. (Zach Braff) – our boyish well-intentioned white guy with a good heart and spirts of bad judgment. As Jimmy copes with the backdraft of his new methods, he’s his own most mercurial patient.
Can this guy be saved – or at least have his sense of humor restored? It takes a village starting with his clinical co-workers.
As Paul, the grounded practice elder with incipient Parkinsons, Harrison Ford is in top form. The grumpy by-the-book loner habitually tells it like it is, hold the Novocaine. He brooks no bullshit – and Jimmy brings it in spades. While I recently raved about Ford’s period rancher in “1923,” he’s even better here in modern dress, hold the horses. He’s a man who sets personal boundaries like a cattleman builds fences—however, he learns that even the strongest fences eventually need mending. Like so many people, he’s very wise about others but ignorant about himself in so many paralyzing ways.
The unifying shrink is Gabby (“Booksmart’s” Jessica Williams). Her bright clothes and boisterous manner don’t stop her from delivering some of the show’s hardest truths. Her optimism balances the downward tendencies of Jimmy and Paul, while trying to battle her own darkness, after losing her best friend, Jimmy’s wife, and watching her own marriage crumble. She’s a contemporary working woman who’s trying to be a beacon for her patients while retaining some bright-and-shiny for herself.
There’s also strong support, a “Where’s Waldo” cast of TV vets. Lawrence’s wife Christa Miller plays the overinvolved next-door neighbor. “Scrubs” janitor Neil Flynn assumes the couch as a patient. And “Ugly Betty’s” Michael Urie charms as Jimmy’s steadfast bestie. Together, they serve Jimmy a lesson in coping with grief. It takes a village to cure, or at least pacify, a shrink.
With a first episode directed by the talented, empathetic filmmaker James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”), and juicy writing, this show is an instant favorite, and so much more than just passing time until “Ted Lasso” returns this spring.
“Shrinking” debuts on Apple TV+ on Jan. 27th with two episodes, with new episodes released weekly on Fridays.