After appearing in a series of Judd Apatow comedies, 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 humor, 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.
The Apple TV+ series Shrinking centers 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 neighbor 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. Shrinking, to its benefit, seems like a major step forward.
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 aging 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.
Segel brings together both his comedic and dramatic acting chops in the role of Jimmy. When we first meet him in the series, we find him high on drugs in the middle of the night, listening to Billy Joel and paling around with two sex workers in his swimming pool, much to Liz’s chagrin. In many cases, this isn’t the best way to introduce a character, but Segel’s performance and the writing of the series give us an opportunity to really care for Jimmy — especially when it comes to Segel’s chemistry with Luke Tennie’s Sean, who starts out as such a rough and closed-off character. It’s through their ongoing sessions that we really do become attached to Jimmy and see why he was so successful before his wife was taken away from him.
Shrinking is at its strongest when dealing with its complex characters, showing how they build their relationships and create unlikely friendships. That being said, the show does start out rough in the first handful of episodes because it is initially hard to root for the characters, which results in the pacing feeling extremely off despite each installment running a mere 30 minutes. Some of the humor can feel a little outdated and doesn’t always have that same timeless feel that Ted Lasso and Forgetting Sarah Marshall had. Thankfully, there is never an over-reliance on it and the series does a wonderful job of balancing the comedy and the drama.
It is hard to say whether this show will catch on in the way that other Apple comedy series like Mythic Quest and The Afterparty have, and plenty of viewers will find a lot they can relate to, but it also may hit too close to home for others. Regardless, Shrinking knows exactly the kind of show that it is, and it may end up being one of the most authentic new comedies of the year.
The first two episodes of Shrinking will debut on Apple TV+ on January 27, and new episodes will premiere weekly.