If you’re a therapist, and you stick to a code of ethics, and you take the need for doctor-client boundaries seriously, “Shrinking” just might make your blood boil. For you, even the show’s sensitive take on grief, a charming turn by Harrison Ford, and a warm ensemble may not quiet your ire.
Our hero, Jimmy, played by the ever-likable Jason Segel, is a Pasadena therapist who decides to tear down those pesky limitations meant to protect and clarify a therapeutic relationship. Tired of listening and nodding, he impulsively decides to tell his patients exactly what he thinks they need to do. He warns one patient, Grace (Heidi Gardner), that if she doesn’t leave her abusive boyfriend, he can no longer treat her. And then there’s that time when he lets his new patient, Sean (Luke Tennie), a veteran with PTSD, live in his garage apartment — after taking him on a field trip to express his anger in the boxing ring.
It’s all a bit cockamamie, but “Shrinking,” which premieres Friday on Apple TV+, is an endearing and earnest comedy, and all of the ridiculously unprofessional behavior — against which Jimmy’s disapproving colleagues provide the show’s voice of reason — is in service of affectionate character studies and a boatload of healing. This is not the more serious psychological portraiture of “In Treatment,” nor is it the story of an exploitive therapist con man like the one in another Apple TV+ therapy show, “The Shrink Next Door.” It’s about a man who wakes up to the idea that life is too short to be passive. Think of Jimmy as a life coach — and think of Jimmy as working out his own unresolved issues while helping his patients.
Jimmy’s heartache is deep, and Segel delivers it with his trademark sincerity. His wife, the mother of their teen daughter, Alice (Lukita Maxwell), died a year before the show begins, and he hasn’t truly dealt with it. He has been ignoring his daughter, he has been abusing drugs, and, when we first meet him, in a scene that contradicts both the show’s generally sweet tone and the gentleness of Segel’s persona, he’s in his yard with a pair of hookers. Like so many series these days, including “The Bear,” “Somebody Somewhere,” “After Life,” and “Never Have I Ever,” the action begins in the wake of a death, and like many of those shows, that death has triggered all kinds of grief, regret, and despair as well as a process of recovery.
“Shrinking” shares some of its DNA with “Ted Lasso.” Along with Segel, it was created by Bill Lawrence and Brett Goldstein of “Ted Lasso,” and it has that Apple TV+ show’s upbeat nature. Each of the characters is facing life challenges, but they all find self-awareness and support from one another. Jimmy shares office space with his mentor, Ford’s Paul, and Gaby, who is played by Jessica Williams with irresistible comic timing. While Paul and Gaby cope with their own struggles — he has a diagnosis and she has a broken marriage — they’re there for Jimmy and Alice, as is Jimmy’s neighbor, Liz (a sparky Christa Miller), who’s adjusting to an empty nest.
Ford is a particularly enjoyable member of the ensemble, as a man who’s both entirely cynical and yet emotionally present. He’s gruff enough, and distant, and a loner, but you can always see the kindness behind his eyes. I haven’t enjoyed him this much in years.
One of my favorite things about “Shrinking” is the banter among the characters, who all ultimately seem to like one another, including Jimmy’s best friend, Brian (Michael Urie). When they hang out, they tease one another with equal parts brutal honesty and fondness, with sarcasm tempered by good feeling. It’s written distinctively, by Lawrence, Goldstein, Segel, and others, so that when the characters talk, they’re also talking about how they’re talking, adding an amusing layer of knowing self-consciousness. Sure, it can be a bit cutesy at times, but it works nonetheless. A feel-good series about loss? Yes, please.
Starring: Jason Segel, Jessica Williams, Harrison Ford, Lukita Maxwell, Michael Urie, Christa Miller, Luke Tennie, Ted McGinley, Heidi Gardner
On: Apple TV+. Premieres Friday with the first two episodes, then weekly.