TV Review: Jason Segel and Harrison Ford Talk Therapy in Apple TV+‘s ‘Shrinking’
A new dramedy from Jason Segel and 'Ted Lasso' alums Bill Lawrence and Brett Goldstein, about a grieving therapist trying to get his life back on track, is at its best when America’s sexiest uncle is dispensing advice.
A decade or so ago, a story like “Shrinking” would have likely made for an indie comedy and a forgettable one at that. It’s a quirky story about how good advice is much easier said than done, centred around a therapist (played here by Jason Segel) who starts to work outside the textbook. Released on Apple TV+, “Shrinking” does indeed have Starbucks rock for its soundtrack and many other familiar comfy comedy elements. But "Shrinking" justifies its size, as it fills its world with distinct characters, all of them works in progress, even the professionals. Co-created by Brett Goldstein, Bill Lawrence (both of “Ted Lasso”), and Jason Segel, “Shrinking” has a good grasp of its thoughtful quirkiness, while also knowing how to let its characters run free.
The Apple TV+ series centres around Jimmy Laird (Segel), a grieving therapist who lost his wife a year prior to when we first meet him. His immense grief has led to a strained relationship with his 17-year-old daughter Alice (Lukita Maxwell), his peppy but overbearing next-door neighbour Liz (Christa Miller), his fellow therapists Gaby (Jessica Williams) and Paul (Harrison Ford), his best friend Brian (Michael Urie), and even his own patients. This all drives Jimmy to a breaking point; instead of just nodding while his patients continue to make unhealthy decisions, he decides to be upfront and tell them exactly how he feels, even if they don't want to hear it. This also leads Jimmy to form an unusual relationship with a new client, Sean (Luke Tennie), a 22-year-old military veteran dealing with severe PTSD that has caused his relationship with his family to fall into shambles. Unlike Ted Lasso, a warm blanket of a show with lovable characters, “Shrinking” dares to get a bit more uncomfortable. In fact, when the series starts out it proves to be much more difficult to connect to its central characters, and while with some shows that'd be a detriment, here it's the entire point of the series. Shrinking is all about Jimmy and his friends and family confronting their own flaws and insecurities and trying to make do with the cards that life has dealt them. There may not be as many laughs as something like “Ted Lasso”, but it still feels just as human, just in a completely different way. “Shrinking” is a series that never laughs at its characters' misfortunes or faults; it's not a mean-spirited show by any definition, but it is sincere. Mental health hasn't always been portrayed in the best way across the media landscape, and despite it becoming much more accepted in today's climate, there are certain areas that are still two large steps behind in accurately portraying it in a meaningful way. This show, to its benefit, seems like a major step forward.
Jason Segel as Jimmy, Harrison Ford as Paul, Jessica Williams as Gaby, and Lukita Maxwell as Alice in "Shrinking". © Apple TV+.
“Shrinking” is at its strongest when dealing with its complex characters, showing how they build their relationships and create unlikely friendships. After appearing in a series of Judd Apatow comedies, Jason Segel became a household name with the raunchy romantic comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”. It's an uproarious and hilarious two hours full of R-rated humour, sex, and nudity. It's also one of the greatest romantic comedies of the 21st Century. Segel has understood how to tap into male vulnerability in a way that many other storytellers have failed to do for years, there's something so authentic about the way he writes and plays each of his characters. Hell, Segel made what may be one of the best live-action Disney movies in the last 25 years with “The Muppets”. So, to pair him with two of the creative minds behind “Ted Lasso” in Bill Lawrence and Brett Goldstein to make a show about therapy seems right in Segel's wheelhouse, and something that could remind audiences why they fell in love with him in the first place. It also helps that he is surrounded by such a good supporting cast, who make familiar roles more or less their own and create numerous enjoyable ensemble scenes when they are all together.
Harrison Ford seems poorly used and out-of-place in this comic milieu; that he’s stiff and uncomfortable is a joke with diminishing returns. Better are his dramatic scenes, in which Paul speaks about his health struggles and his difficulty in opening up to his daughter about them. The dialogue is plain and unadorned — Paul tells an intimate, “I’m afraid she won’t see me the way she used to. I won’t be her father, I’ll just be this sad old man that needs to be taken care of.” Ford’s congenital tightness as an actor, the degree to which he tends to withhold emotion, make this moment truly land and feel like a breakthrough. Ford's Paul is also framed wonderfully as a direct opposite to Jessica Williams’ Gabby, who also works at Paul and Jimmy's office. She is a ray of sunshine who unabashedly covers her water bottles and laptop in stickers. The chemistry between Ford and Williams is so calibrated but effective that it makes a heartwarming moment out of them listening to ‘90s pop in her Tesla. Other pairings in other shows couldn’t make such a scene feel close to sincere.
Harrison Ford in "Shrinking" © Apple TV+
Arguably, the selling point of the new series though isn't Segel, nor is it the Ted Lasso team — it's the inclusion of Hollywood legend Ford, who has finally entered the world of television with his role here and in Taylor Sheridan's “1923”. Ford's performance as Paul, an ageing therapist struggling with Parkinson's disease, is one of his best roles in years. Ford gets to bring that grumpy energy that he has brought to so many other roles, but he also brings a lot of vulnerability. He is also responsible for some of the series' biggest laughs, particularly from his interactions with Williams and Maxwell. While this kind of character isn't anything new, there's something so endearing about Ford in the role, and shall the series continue, one would hope Ford would return.