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A Phenomenal 'Shrinking' Season Finale, But What the Hell Was that Ending?

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 24, 2023 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 24, 2023 |


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I know that Ted Lasso is considered more of a Jason Sudeikis show, and I think that’s become increasingly true as Sudeikis has taken control of it. However, Bill Lawrence had a lot of input in the show’s tone and sense of humor back in the opening season when he was probably more involved (and Zach Braff was directing episodes). I can tell, because I am familiar with Lawrence’s tone over nine seasons of Scrubs and six seasons of Cougar Town. It’s what is known as whiplash poignancy: You’re having a good time, laughing it up, and WHAM, suddenly there’s dust in your eyes.

I know that Shrinking also credits Jason Segel and Brett “Roy Kent” Goldstein as co-creators, but it is very much a Bill Lawrence show. Segel may inform his own character, and Goldstein may inform Harrison Ford’s character, but these are largely Bill Lawrence’s creations. I’ve seen enough of his work, read enough of his interviews, and heard him on enough podcasts to know how much of these characters are based on his own life: Jimmy’s (Segel) relationship with his daughter is based on Lawrene’s own with his; Christa Miller’s character is based on Lawrence’s real-life wife, Christa Miller; and it is hilariously obvious at times that Ted McGinley’s character is based on Lawrence himself. The way that Christa Miller’s character treats Ted McGinley’s character? That’s how Lawrence talks about the way that Miller treats him! And Harrison Ford’s Paul is nothing if not another version of Dr. Cox from Scrubs, and despite the sometimes heavy subject matter, the whole series often feels like another variation of Lawrence’s hangouts on Cougar Town.

None of this is a knock against Shrinking, which is one of my favorite comedies since … Scrubs, but I also can’t help but acknowledge and appreciate how far Lawrence has come since those lingering shots of Heather Graham and her windblown hair on Scrubs. There are two kinds of middle-aged white men: The kind that go with the flow and evolve (and usually have women in their lives to help guide them) or the reactionary types who rebel against that evolution. (Name one reactionary type who has an awesome wife. You can’t. They don’t exist). I love that the sense of humor on Shrinking is still rooted in sophomoric observations about sex (“safe dick,” “raw dogging”), but there’s nothing objectionable about it that won’t age well, and the emotional humor is more sophisticated.

Indeed, Lawrence has never been as good as he is in Shrinking: He’s telling better, more mature stories; he’s digging deeper into the characters; he’s exploring grief, mental health, aging, and parenting, and he’s still really f**king funny.

Spoilers, but I thought the season wrapped up almost perfectly: Jimmy is starting to move on; his daughter, Alice (how good is Lukita Maxwell?) is allowing herself some space to move on from her mother’s death without feeling guilty; Gaby is unexpectedly falling hard for Jimmy’s “safe dick” (I was against this, but now I’m not); Paul is making inroads with his own daughter as he continues to accept the reality of his Parksinson’s diagnosis; and Sean is letting people in, including Liz. (I think there’s a lot left to explore with Sean next season because they more or less aborted his arc early on).

But mostly, it’s just been a really great hang. I genuinely love spending time with these people, and I appreciate the different dynamics between different pairings of characters (Gaby and Liz’s burgeoning friendship is amazing, and Paul and Alice’s bench sessions in the park are routinely my favorite moments in the episode). I get that good ache at the end of every episode — and Jimmy’s wedding speech in the finale was beautifully gutting! — and I don’t feel like there’s been a false note the entire season.

Except for that last scene! What the hell, Shrinking?! What was THAT? It’s been a spectacular season grounded in characters that have felt real, and then that? The whole episode wraps up with Jimmy doing a Snoopy dance and Alice wearing her mom’s hot-as-shit shoes at Brian’s wedding — they have closure! — and then it cuts to Grace (Heidi Gardner), who is out hiking with her abusive husband. At the beginning of the season, Jimmy — in a fit of frustration — demanded that Grace leave her asshole husband, and she did. Briefly. But real to life, her asshole husband charmed her back, and after a brief respite, he fell back into his old asshole patterns. Nevertheless, over the course of the season, Jimmy genuinely helped Grace boost her confidence and recognize how awful her husband is. I guess Jimmy’s therapy worked too well, because at the end of the episode, after the abusive husband berates Grace, calls her an “idiot,” and tells her to “shut the f**k up,” Grace pushes him over the edge of a cliff and presumably to his death.

That’s … murder. This is not that kind of show! Maybe they’re setting up a season two where Jimmy helps Grace argue Battered Woman’s Syndrome in court, but Shrinking is not that kind of show, either! It’s a comedy, often with heavy moments, but it’s not a murder or courtroom show! That’s the kind of scene that might have appeared in a goofy dream sequence on Scrubs, but not in the show’s reality on Shrinking. It’s so weirdly out of character for the series. I trust that they’ll right the ship quickly in the second season, but before they get into the writers’ room, they need to rewatch Landry and Tyra in season two of Friday Night Lights and remind themselves of what this show is and is not, and they need to back out of that plot turn as quickly as possible.

I look forward, all the same, to another season of Shrinking.