Jason Segel and Harrison Ford play therapists who are sometimes too honest with their patients and not enough with themselves in this new Apple TV+ comedy series.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. A new comedy series streaming on Apple TV+ titled Shrinking stars How I Met Your Mother's Jason Segel as a therapist trying to deal with people's problems and issues, including his own. The first two episodes premiered on Friday, and new episodes will air weekly. Shrinking co-stars include Harrison Ford, who recently starred in his first television series, western drama 1923 on Paramount+. Our television critic David Bianculli has this criticism.
DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: Apple TV+'s new comedy series Shrinking has a lot in common with Ted Lasso, another series on the same streaming service. From there came two creators of "Shrinking". Bill Lawrence, who also created Scrubs, wrote and produced Ted Lasso. So did Brett Goldstein, who also starred in "Ted Lasso" and stole the show as grumpy old football player Roy Kent. The third creator of "Shrinking" and its central star is Jason Segel from "How I Met Your Mother". He plays Jimmy, a therapist who has been in turmoil since the death of his wife. He neglects his teenage daughter Alice, played by Lukita Maxwell, and essentially relies on his neighbor Liz, played by Christa Miller, to help raise her. He basically just goes over the moves and even yawns while listening to his therapy patients until one day he comes back and decides to speak his mind and offer very direct advice. Patient Grace is played by Saturday Night Live's Heidi Gardner, and she's understandably confused.
HEIDI GARDNER: (as Grace) He loves me.
JASON SEGEL: (As Jimmy) Enough. Grace, we've been doing this for two years, two years of your life. I've never seen a guy tell a woman she's stupid and lucky she has nice boobs and I was like wow they must really be in love. And you keep telling me how great it is. Well I saw. He's not that good. Your muscles are very big. Your shirts are too tight. Nobody likes that. It's uncomfortable. And what is the word? What is that word? what is the word
GARDNER: (as Grace) I don't know what word you mean.
SEGEL: (as Jimmy) Disgusting. He is ugly. He's an ugly, ugly man. Escape inwards and outwards.
GARDNER: (as Grace) I'm sorry. I don't know what's going on because I was talking and...
SEGEL: (As Jimmy) Grace, your husband is emotionally abusive. He's not working on it. He has no intention of doing this. It made you think that's all you deserve. It is not. Just leave it.
GARDNER: (as Grace) It's not that easy.
SEGEL: (as Jimmy) It's very simple. Don't have children. Go to your sister's house in Vancouver.
BIANCULLI: Instead of feeling like he's hit rock bottom, Jimmy suspects he might have stumbled upon a whole new way of treating patients. He forwards it to his two colleagues at the therapy center, who show opposite reactions. Paul, his friend and mentor, played by Harrison Ford, is vehemently opposed. But Gabby, played by the much younger Jessica Williams, sees some potential.
SEGEL: (as Jimmy) Hello.
HARRISON FORD: (as Paul) Hey, kid. How are you?
SEGEL: (As Jimmy) I'm normal. But. It's a normal day, a normal day. manufacturing. Do the normal style. Hey, you know what I was thinking, Paul?
JESSICA WILLIAMS: (as Gabby) Is it about how you do it the normal way?
FORD: (as Paul) What? What do you think?
SEGEL: (as Jimmy) Have you ever been so mad at your patients that you suddenly just want to get rid of them?
FORD: (as Paul) Well, we don't shake them.
SEGEL: (as Jimmy) No, I know. I know I... I support her. I am. I think come on, you're a fucked up person, you can change. And then they just never do it.
FORD: (as Paul) Compassion fatigue. We've all run into these walls.
SEGEL: (as Jimmy) Yes.
FORD: (as Paul) You're asking questions. Listen. You continue unharmed. And you don't make that face.
SEGEL: (As Jimmy) I'm sorry. It's just - look; we know what to do. You know why? Because it's pretty easy. I get sad when I do this. Maybe don't do the damn thing. We know the answer. Do you ever just want to force her to do it?
FORD: (as Paul) Great idea. We're just stealing their autonomy, any opportunity to help themselves, right? And we will - what? - psychological guards.
WILLIAMS: (while Gabby laughs) Oh my god. I sense the sarcasm, but that sounds a little rude.
BIANCULLI: The setting seems to suggest a light-hearted vision of an alternative therapeutic approach where patients laugh easily and reliably, as they did on The Bob Newhart Show. But "Shrinking" has more in mind and wants to take its characters and their interactions more seriously. Jason Segel's Jimmy has some big father-daughter issues to contend with, as does Harrison Ford's Paul. His daughter, played by Lily Rabe, doesn't know her father has been diagnosed with Parkinson's and he doesn't want to tell her. One of Jimmy's patients, played by Luke Tennie, is an Army veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. And patients, like all therapists, sometimes go through ups and downs when they're not even being honest with themselves.
There's a lot of smart sitcom experience on display here, and all the actors are used well. Michael Urie from Ugly Betty, Ted McGinley from Happy Days and Married with Children, Christa Miller from Scrubs, Wendie Malick from Just Shoot Me! - they all create characters that feel real enough that you start not only cheering them on, but start caring for them. And Harrison Ford, with his quiet fatigue and surprising unpredictability, delivers the best performance of them all. In a later episode, her reaction to a peacock grooming itself made me laugh, laughing harder and more unexpectedly than I had in years.
I've seen nine of the ten episodes of "Shrinking" this season and they still fascinate me. The characters don't always behave as expected. And although most of the scenes were funny, some of them surprised me and suddenly made me sad or emotional. "Ted Lasso" did that to me too. "Shrinking" characters will grow on you as they grow. Jimmy's therapeutic approach may not be for everyone, but as a piece of television entertainment, I can wholeheartedly recommend Shrink.
BIG: David Bianculli is a professor of television studies at Rowan University in New Jersey. He reviewed the new comedy series Shrinking, starring Jason Segel and Harrison Ford. Streams on Apple TV+.
Tomorrow at FRESH AIR we will be talking about how mobile phones and electric vehicles are operated by slave laborers who mine cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Cobalt is an essential component of rechargeable batteries used in electrical equipment and vehicles. Our guest will be Siddharth Kara who has been researching modern day slavery and human trafficking for over 20 years. His new book is called “Cobalt Red”. I hope you will join us. I'm Terry Gross.
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