Shrinking

Shrinking season 1

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Paul Asay

TV Series Review

Jimmy is a mess. And everyone knows it.

Sure, he has his reasons: Losing a spouse in a tragic car crash would do a number on anyone. Still, the neighbors are getting tired of Jimmy’s drunken 3 a.m. backyard get-togethers. His co-workers have noticed that he’s falling down (sometimes literally) on the job. His 17-year-old daughter, Alice, feels abandoned. Sometimes, it feels like she’s taking care of him. Alice didn’t just lose her mom in that car crash: She lost her dad, too.

Yep, it’s time for Jimmy to see a professional about his issues. Well past time, actually. He needs a counselor.

Oh, wait. He is one.

Freudian Quip

It’s not easy to help walk clients through their problems when you have so many of your own. Jimmy tries. He really does. But his patience isn’t what it used to be. Instead of being sort of a non-judgmental sounding board, he’s started … um, telling people what he actually thinks.

“Grace, your husband is emotionally abusive,” he tells one patient. “He’s not working on it. He’s not intending to. Just … leave him.”

When one of his patients can’t stop getting into fights, Jimmy takes him to spar with a bunch of mixed martial artists. When another complains about overly friendly baristas, Jimmy takes him out for coffee.

His gruff boss, Paul, doesn’t approve of all this hands-on intervention: Counselors are supposed to help patients reach their own resolutions, not drag them to them. But Jimmy feels like he’s actually helping his clients heal. And, in so doing, he’s healing himself a bit, too.

Now, if only he could heal his relationship with Alice. That’ll take more than just some firm advice or a trip to the gym. It’ll take Jimmy remembering how to be a dad again. And that’ll mean facing his loss on a much different, and more difficult, level.

Disordered

Give props to Apple TV+. It seems to have a knack for creating deeply heartfelt, wildly problematic comedies.

Ted Lasso is Apple’s exhibit A, of course. The two-time Emmy winner for Outstanding Comedy Series is loaded with optimism, delightfully sweet moments and f-words. Darker shows such as Mr. Corman and Severance can tug a few heartstrings and toss out loads of language.

It’s fitting that Shrinking should follow suit—especially given that it was created in part by Brett Goldstein and Bill Lawrence, the team behind Ted Lasso. The show’s third creator, Jason Segel, has plenty of experience in foul humor (Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), but was also a driving force behind 2011’s delightful movie The Muppets.

Also featuring Hollywood legend Harrison Ford, Shrinking is sweet and funny and heartfelt. Segel (who plays Jimmy) has a knack for drawing humor out of pathos, giggles from grief. The journey toward healing—shared by family, friends and patients—feels real and raw. But it makes you smile, too. While humor often comes at the expense of others, Shrinking never feels mean.

But it does feel crude. And crass. And foul. And wildly problematic.

Sexual allusions can surface with little warning. Jimmy’s best friend, Brian, is a married gay man. Alcohol and drug use can wander through the plot. Violence—a rarity in most sitcoms—is a semi-regular feature in this one. And the language feels more at home in a detention facility than in the confines of a counseling clinic. Expect to hear at least 30 f-words an episode—or about one a minute. Why, Shrinking could’ve just as easily been called Swearing. And I suspect that some in the counseling profession might look Jimmy’s techniques and be positively horrified.

If I was sitting across from a counselor—a more by-the-book counselor, not Jimmy’s by-the-seat-of-his-pants one—and we started talking about Shrinking, the therapist might ask, “So, how does the show make you feel?”

Frustrated, that’s what. For a show to be so nice and yet so objectionable, it feels like I’m being subjected to some form of cognitive dissonance. And the counselor might well advise me, and others, to steer clear.

Episode Reviews

Jan. 27, 2023—S1, Ep1: “Coin Flip”

After a very late night filled with too many substances, Jimmy staggers into his practice and listens to his regular clients. But something snaps in him while listening to Grace (whose husband habitually tells her that she’s dumb and would be wholly alone if she didn’t have such nice physical attributes). He tells her to leave her husband or find another counselor. She agrees to do just that. Energized, Jimmy later meets a client, Sean, who has rage issues, and takes him to a mixed martial arts gym. Meanwhile, he makes the first halting steps at trying to repair his relationship with his daughter, Alice.

Jimmy’s late night included two women who were likely prostitutes. (When he denies it to a neighbor, the neighbor asks whether he paid them to be there with him. “Not yet,” Jimmy admits.) The two are in a pool in their underwear (though Jimmy insists they’re wearing swimsuits). Several liquor bottles sit on a table, and Jimmy admits that a nearby bowl holds “Adderall. Maybe some painkillers.”

Grace sports cleavage and discusses how her husband likes her breasts (using a crasser word for them). After someone punches Sean in the face, Sean beats the aggressor viciously. (We later see Sean and another man tending to bloody wounds on their faces, while Sean’s victim is taken to an ambulance.) We see a brief glimpse of a photo of one of Sean’s other victims. (The man’s face is clearly bloodied and swollen in various places.) We learn that Sean served in the military and that his time overseas was filled with “trauma and violence.” There’s a reference to a famous suicide victim.

Jimmy admits that he got drunk and high during his late-night escapade. We hear a number of crass colloquialisms involving genitals and sex acts. We see a guy without a shirt. We hear 42 f-words, another 16 s-words and loads of other profanities, including “a–,” “b—ch,” “crap,” “h—,” “d—k,” “p-ssed” and “t-ts.” God’s name is misused twice, and Jesus’ name is abused once.

Jan. 27, 2023—S1, Ep2: “Fortress of Solitude”

Jimmy tries to re-involve himself in Alice’s life, but that’s not as easy as it looks: Liz, their next-door neighbor has stepped in and taken over most of his duties. Jimmy also reconnects with his best friend, Brian, whom he “ghosted” for almost a year. Meanwhile, we learn that Paul—Jimmy’s boss—has been secretly hanging out with Alice and encouraging her to give her father a second chance.

Alice is invited by one of her high school friends to join her for drinks under the bridge. “We can drink a lot,” Alice’s friend tells her, adding that she hopes to drink enough to throw up. When Alice mentions the party to Paul, the senior counselor advises the 17-year-old girl to eat dinner with her dad instead—but to feel free to go to the party if things don’t work out. (She later goes to eat and watch basketball with Paul instead.) Someone scolds Jimmy for spending his evenings drinking whiskey out of a Santa mug. (We see him do this very thing.)

We see Brian with his male spouse and their baby. We hear about a violent fight from the previous episode. Sean’s parents kick him out of the house for fighting. Taco Tuesday is called “vaguely racist.” Characters say the f-word 36 times, the s-word nearly a dozen and plenty of other profanities, too (including “a–,” “b—ch,” “h—” and “d—k”). God’s name is misused a half-dozen times, including twice with the word “d—n.”

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paul-asay
Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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