​'Shrinking' Grows Past Its Familiar Story

Created by Brett Goldstein, Bill Lawrence and Jason Segel

Starring Jason Segel, Harrison Ford, Jessica Williams, Christa Miller, Michael Urie, Luke Tennie, Lukita Maxwell

Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

BY Matthew Simpson Published Jan 27, 2023

With so much content these days, it can sometimes feel like there are no new stories. Shrinking, AppleTV+'s new series starring Jason Segel, covers familiar territory: an affluent, white male therapist living in an affluent neighbourhood full of affluent friends has hit rock bottom after a year of grief and begins to act out as a means of reconnecting with his own humanity — and, by extension, reconnecting with his family, colleagues and friends. But, despite its conventional premise, Shrinking is executed so well that the old feels new again.

Segel plays Jimmy, a therapist whose wife passed away about a year before the series begins. In that year, he has checked out, partying with drugs and sex workers, leaving the raising of his teenage daughter Alice (Lukita Maxwell) mostly to his neighbour Liz (Christa Miller). At work, he's supported by his therapist colleagues Gaby (Jessica Williams) and Paul (Harrison Ford). When the series begins, Jimmy finally loses his patience with his patients and tells them exactly what to do rather than doing any actual psychotherapy. His over-involvement in their lives is fodder for many laughs, and allows him to begin healing and reconnecting with the people around him.

Created by Segel alongside Ted Lasso producer Bill Lawrence and writer Brett Goldstein, Shrinking taps into the best aspects of everyone involved.  There's no denying the Ted Lasso DNA in Shrinking. The series walks the same tightrope of comedy and weapons-grade sincerity, and there is perhaps no better actor on television for turning a sad sack who has hit bottom into someone you can still root for than Segel. His writing and performance are perfect for this style, which perhaps works better when it's being sincere than when it's trying to be funny — but it's still very funny.

Much of the credit for that latter point must go to Ford, who hasn't taken a role this deliberately goofy in years. A great straight man next to the much more animated Segel, Ford says things like "raw dogging" without knowing what they mean, and by delivering those lines so confidently and gruffly wrong, laughter is the only reaction. His character Paul, who is in the early stages of Parkinson's and trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter, has one of the more familiar arcs in the series, but it is done so well that it doesn't matter. 

The rest of the cast shows up in a big way, too. Miller, the queen of sarcasm, is excellent as the nosy neighbour with a case of empty nest syndrome, and Williams once again proves her comic timing and screen presence will one day make her a huge star. Maxwell's turn as a young woman who loves but doesn't respect her father anymore is lovely. Her chemistry with Segel is a big driver of the show's more melancholic, tear-jerking moments.

Rounding out the cast is Luke Tennie as Sean and Michael Urie as Brian. Tennie has a warm presence as Sean, a patient of Jimmy's and a veteran with PTSD and anger management issues, and he keeps up with the rest of the cast wonderfully. Urie's Brian is Jimmy's best friend (whom Jimmy has ghosted for an entire year) and he adds a dash of drama and flamboyance that makes for some big laughs.  

Shrinking is a series that could have very easily been just another show about an ensemble of people overly involved in each other's lives, but the balance of humour, heart and sincerity elevate it. Despite the tropes, Shrinking is emotionally true, and that makes it feel like something special.
(Apple TV+)

Latest Coverage