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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Richard Roeper

‘Shrinking’ builds a wonderful world around a therapist in a spiral

A therapist (Jason Segel) is in a funk after the death of his wife on “Shrinking.” (Apple TV+)

As we eagerly await the sometime-this-spring drop of “Ted Lasso” Season 3, you can get your fix of comedy with heart in the new Apple TV+ series “Shrinking,” which covers a very different world but has the same winning formula of giving us irresistibly quirky characters who deliver quote-worthy dialogue that produces big laughs — and just when we’re enjoying the breezy whimsy of it all, POW! There’s your lump-in-the-throat moment.

Goshdarnit, we just want to give everyone in this whole universe a great, big hug.

Created by the “Ted Lasso” duo of executive producer Bill Lawrence and star-writer Brett Goldstein with star Jason Segel, “Shrinking” centers around the lives of three therapists at the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Center in Pasadena, California:

  • Jimmy (Segel) is a disaster of a human being who has been in a spiral since his wife Tia (Lilan Bowden, seen in flashback sequences) died a year ago. Jimmy spends so much time in a drug- and booze-filled haze that his empty-nester next-door neighbor Liz (Christa Miller) has essentially taken over the parenting duties of his 17-year-old daughter Alice (Lukita Maxwell).
  • Gabby (Jessica Williams), who was Jimmy’s wife’s best friend, is upbeat and confident and hilarious — but she might not be as cool as she claims to be about her recent divorce.
  • Then, there’s their legendary, old-school, perpetually crusty boss Paul (Harrison Ford in a role that feels not entirely distant from his real-life persona, cough-cough), who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is finding it increasingly difficult to disguise the symptoms.

After a long night of partying in his backyard pool with two sex workers to the sounds of some bangin’ Billy Joel, a heavily hungover Jimmy tries to power through his scheduled sessions. But, when a patient named Grace (Heidi Gardner) goes on and on about her horrible husband, Jimmy snaps and exclaims, “Grace, your husband is emotionally abusive. … Just f---ing leave him. … Leave him, or I’m done being your therapist.”

Jimmy is energized and rejuvenated by his meltdown and decides he’s going to become a “psychological vigilante” who will break any and all conventional rules if he thinks it will help his patients (not to mention improve Jimmy’s own state of mind). Jimmy takes it to the next level when he becomes friends with Sean (Luke Tennie), a combat veteran who is prone to episodes of rage, and even invites Sean to live in his guest house. What could possibly go right? Well, you might be surprised.

If “Shrinking” dwelled too much on Jimmy’s gonzo therapy approach, the gimmick might have grown tiresome. But that’s just one of myriad intriguing story threads. The writers do an amazing job of pinging back and forth between various characters and their relationships on a level rarely seen in a TV comedy.

Paul has park-bench meetings with Alice and offers her fatherly advice even as he struggles to connect with his own estranged daughter (Lily Rabe). Jimmy reconnects with his best friend Brian (Michael Urie) after shutting him out of his life. At first, Liz and Gabby can’t stand each other, but then they bond over morning hikes and early evening wine.

There’s not an episode of “Shrinking” that didn’t make me laugh out loud more than once — and get a little misty-eyed as well.

Jason Segel is perfectly suited to play the self-deprecating, eager-to-please, heart-on-his-sleeve Jimmy, who wants to snap out of his funk but is trying WAY too hard to win back the trust of his daughter.

Jessica Williams is a scene-stealing force as Gabby, who is such a funny, strong, complex, interesting character she could have a spinoff of her own.

Harrison Ford plays Jimmy’s mentor, an old-school therapist attempting to hide his Parkinson’s symptoms. (Apple TV+)

Then, there’s 80-year-old Harrison Ford, who has entered the world of TV with a powerful one-two punch, first with the “Yellowstone” prequel “1923” and now with “Shrinking.” We all knew Ford would be a commanding presence as a Wyoming rancher in the former, but what a treat it is to see him leaning into the comedy here and gamely bantering with comedy veterans Segel, Williams and the always terrific Christa Miller, among others.

You never know what goes on behind the scenes, but one gets the feeling Ford is having one hell of a great time on this show. We’re sure having a hell of a great time watching it.

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