We review the new AppleTV+ series Shrinking, from creators Bill Lawrence, Jason Segel, and Brett Goldstein starring Segel and Harrison Ford.
Plot: Jimmy is a grieving therapist who breaks the rules and tells his clients exactly what he thinks. Ignoring his training and ethics, he finds himself making huge, tumultuous changes to people’s lives … including his own.
Review: Now and then, a series immediately clicks with audiences. The most recent example of this is the AppleTV+ series Ted Lasso which has united audiences across the globe with a heartfelt and hilarious look at a broken character striving for positivity and success despite the odds. It is no coincidence that the latest AppleTV+ series bound to unite audiences and critics, Shrinking, comes from Ted Lasso writers and executive producers Brett Goldstein and Bill Lawrence. Teaming with Jason Segel and an ensemble cast chock full of brilliant performances, Shrinking is my favorite series of 2023, thanks to a combination of realistic portrayals of grief, therapy, and parenthood while still delivering a hilarious, heartfelt, and enjoyable story.
Jason Segel plays Jimmy Laird, a psychiatrist who lost his wife, Tia (Lilan Bowden), tragically and has been mired in grief ever since. When we first meet Jimmy, he hangs out with young girls, does drugs late into the night, and shirks his responsibilities to his teen daughter, Alice (Lukita Maxwell). Neighbor Liz (Christa Miller) has been serving as a surrogate mom to Alice while Jimmy tries to cope at home while still supporting his patients. One day, Jimmy snaps and tells his patients blunt advice, which gives him a spark of hope, much to the chagrin of his friend and colleague Gaby (Jessica Williams) and his mentor Paul (Harrison Ford). When Jimmy starts treating veteran Sean (Luke Tennie), his life starts to change but not always in the ways he anticipates.
Similar to Ricky Gervais’ emotional comedy about death and grief, After Life, Shrinking does not wallow in the sadness of loss. Instead, it uses it as an opportunity for rebirth and renewal. In the first episode of Shrinking, after we have met all of the primary cast members, it seems like Jimmy’s new approach is working, and the episode heads towards a joyful and happy ending. Most series would have gone that way, and I was expecting Shrinking to go there as well. Instead, Lawrence, Goldstein, and Segel prove they are better writers than that and instead throw a literal sucker punch into the ending, which they employ in various ways throughout the entire series. By anchoring Shrinking in a funny story and entrenching it with the idea that not all endings are happy, perfect endings, they embrace the imperfections in us all, making this series even stronger.
The entire cast here is exceptional, especially Jessica Williams and Michael Urie as Jimmy’s closest friends. Williams has long been a fantastic comedian and actress, but she gets to exercise her talents in a hilarious role here. Urie had me rolling from his first scene as the lawyer who always has everything go his way, and I loved every moment he was on screen. Christa Miller is fantastic as always and elevates what could have been a second-tier character into a vital primary player in every episode. Newcomers Luke Tennie and Lukita Maxwell showcase burgeoning talent and are sure to become in demand after this series debuts. The real highlight, though, is Harrison Ford. Ford has become synonymous with his big screen roles but thrives in this role as Jimmy’s mentor who doesn’t take his shit. Ford also portrays a man dealing with a Parkinson’s diagnosis with dignity and a great sense of humor. So many of Ford’s lines had me grinning that I was unprepared to hear him sing. Trust me; it is worth watching this series for that scene alone.
Jason Segel has long been an underrated actor despite showing his range in comedies (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), musicals (The Muppets), and drama (Our Friend). His recent AMC series Dispatches From Elsewhere was very underrated, but he brings all of his skills as a writer and actor to their best use in Shrinking. Bill Lawrence has long-balanced drama and comedy going back to his days with Scrubs, but partnering with Segel and Brett Goldstein has given an excellent insight into the health benefits of therapy. Having actual psychiatric experts on set, including Phil Stutz (the subject of Jonah Hill’s excellent Netflix documentary Stutz), Shrinking deeply supports the therapy process and the distinct manner it works for unique patients. The series also shows that the doctors themselves are not always perfect beings and need support, making this series feel very balanced and realistic and resonate even more than it otherwise would have.
Shrinking is a damn near-perfect show that I could not get enough of. It is funny where it needs to be funny and dramatic in all the right places. The entire cast is exceptional, and I felt emotionally invested in every episode. Shrinking is precisely the type of show we need in this day and age, full of quotable lines, great supporting actors, and one of Harrison Ford’s best performances ever. It is very different from Ted Lasso but hits the same notes differently. I doubt anyone will finish this series and not have good things to say about it. If I have any problem with Shrinking, it is that there was not enough of it. I hope this show clicks and runs for multiple seasons so we can keep watching these characters grow and make us cry a little but laugh even more.
Shrinking premieres on January 27th on AppleTV+.