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shrinking-lawrence.jpg

'Shrinking' Is What Happens When Bill Lawrence Doesn't Hide Behind Dr. Cox

By Dustin Rowles | TV | February 3, 2023 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | February 3, 2023 |


shrinking-lawrence.jpg

I hate to make the comparison here to Ted Lasso but it’s impossible to avoid. Shrinking is a Bill Lawrence series. Yes, he co-created it with Jason Segel and Brett (Roy Kent) Goldstein, and he created Lasso with Jason Sudeikis, Brendan Hunt, and Joe Kelly, but they’re both Bill Lawrence shows. The other creators may have come up with the characters and the premises (although, Shrinking shares some similarities to a Bill Lawrence pilot that was not picked up), but the tone is all Bill Lawrence. I know it well because the tone comes from that liminal space between comedy and poignancy in all those seasons of Lawrence’s Scrubs.

The difference between Scrubs and Lasso/Shrinking is that Lawrence is no longer hiding behind the sarcasm and anger of Dr. Cox, the cantankerousness of Dr. Kelso, or the meanness of Jordan Sullivan. Mike Schur in Parks and Recreation gave Bill Lawrence permission to wear his heart on his sleeve, and by god, that’s exactly what he’s doing now. He loves his wife, his kids, and his [insert sports team] and he wants the world to know. Bill Lawrence has turned the sensitive white guy knob up to 11, and while that is what makes Lasso and now Shrinking so appealing and successful, I suspect that there are some who want to rip the knob off and shove it up his ass.

I am not one of those people. In fact, I have an extreme fondness for Lawrence, Schur, and Lindelof because we are all white men of a certain age who have had similar pop-culture experiences and who have been mellowed by children and transformed into better people by our wives and our peers. I was therefore predisposed to liking Shrinking, and I wish I could say that the series surprised me in some way. It didn’t, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s almost exactly as funny and heartwarming as I expected it would be, and not even Harrison Ford’s cantankerous teddy bear — think Coach Beard crossed with Ken Jenkins in Cougar Town — seemed out of the ordinary. I love the show, but also, I would.

Jason Segel stars as Jimmy, a therapist a year out from the unexpected death of his wife. Jimmy is struggling in his life, in his job, and in his role as a single parent. His nosy neighbor Liz (Christa Miller) has basically taken over as parent to his daughter Alice (Lukita Maxwell), he goes on regular benders, and he hates his patients because they never seem to learn.

It all comes to a head when he loses patience with Grace (Heidi Gardner), a patient in an emotionally abusive relationship. Tired of hearing her complain about the same things without doing anything about it, Jimmy boils over in frustration and tells Grace to leave her husband already. Grace thinks about it and agrees. It proves (at least initially) to be a success.

The radical honesty approach to therapy (a.k.a., The Crazy People approach) shakes something loose in Jimmy. It pulls him out of his grief funk, and he applies it next to Sean (Luke Tennie), a former soldier suffering from PTSD who has nowhere to unleash his pent-up anger and violence. Jimmy signs him up for boxing class and tries out his radical honesty approach on him. It not only seems to work but Sean turns the radical honesty approach back around onto Jimmy. Sean is the Leslie Higgins of Shrinking.

There are also a lot of strange connections between Jimmy and his co-workers. Harrison Ford’s Paul has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and has some stuff in his past that keeps him from opening up to anyone except, apparently, Jimmy’s daughter. Jessica Williams plays another therapist in the office, Gabby, who is going through a divorce and was also best friends with Jimmy’s late wife, so she’s grieving a loss, too. Meanwhile, Jimmy is also reconnecting with his upbeat best friend Brian (Michael Urie) for the first time since his wife passed because Jimmy couldn’t deal with Brian’s aggressive positivity.

The whole show feels like it was cooked up in a lab by people I love and written to cater to exactly me and my ilk, and again that’s gotta be annoying for people who want to see their own sensibilities perfectly reflected back to them. I barely want to do anything this month except spend time with these characters, with episodes of Poker Face, and in the world of The Last of Us. If you are also of this ilk, it’s a good time to be a television viewer.