In episode three of Shrinking (Apple TV+) there is an exchange about vulvas that is worth the price of admission alone. If that’s not your thing, later there is the sight of Harrison Ford, as therapist Paul, stoned on edibles, which feels like a televisual event we can all enjoy.
The opening episode is, however, a clunker. We meet Jimmy (Jason Segel) when his long-suffering neighbour Liz (Christa Miller) brings the hammer down at 3am on the latest of his pills-booze-and-sex-workers pool party. He is a year into grieving his wife, but his teenage daughter is asleep upstairs and Liz – who has largely taken over parenting her since Jimmy began his stricken descent – thinks it’s all, you know, a bit much. The killing irony is – Jimmy is a therapist, too! He works for old-school, grumpy Paul!
Fortunately, Liz’s weary eyeroll is enough for Jimmy to snap out of self-destructive mode and start to engage anew with his clients. So far, so unbelievable and although Jimmy is played by such an open-faced, innately charming and open-hearted performer as Segel and we are clearly being asked to sympathise with him, he is perilously close to being, frankly, a bit of a shit.
But then the whole year of grief and addiction is basically abandoned and the show starts to find the register it has been looking for – a slightly grittier Ted Lasso. Mainly because it’s been created by many of the same people who were behind that surprise pandemic hit. Then you have a choice to make. Are you in the market for a comedy that uses therapy rather than a football team as the vehicle for its characters’ journeys? Or is that a step too far? Some – like me – easily can and will. Others might have to dig deeper into their Ted-like reserves of tolerance and compassion to try, and still others will be turned off from the start.
But if you choose to stick around, there is fun to be had as Jimmy realises he can no longer stand the painfully slow process of allowing people to make their own breakthroughs (“We know the answer!” he says to Paul. “Don’t you just want to make them do it?”) so becomes a “psychological vigilante”. “Just fucking leave him!” he cries to Grace, wife of an abusive husband. He tells a relentless cynic he’s just lonely and takes him out for coffee. And he takes Sean (Luke Tennie), an Afghanistan veteran with PTSD who is there for court-mandated anger management sessions, to a boxing gym so he can work off his aggression and they can get more calmly to what’s underneath. “Or it’ll make your bloodlust stronger and you’ll become twice as dangerous,” he adds. Sean ends up moving into Jimmy’s poolhouse – again, stretching even the likes of my willing credulity – so that he and his therapist can learn from each other in greater proximity.
All the performances are wonderful, especially Jessica Williams as Gaby, fellow shrink and Jimmy’s wife’s best friend, and the chemistry between every combination of actors is a job. But it is Ford – in only his second ever small screen role, and the first to let him remind us all of his comic as well as dramatic chops – who holds it all together. His dry delivery of Paul’s acerbic one-liners and verdicts on his younger colleagues’ antics provides a much-needed counterpoint to the schmaltz that often threatens to overwhelm, and his gravitas grounds a show whose fluffy pieces could otherwise easily float away.