Feb 07

“Shrinking” on Apple TV: Dysfunctional Radical Honesty

The Apple TV comedy Shrinking boasts a lot of big names in its cast, including Harrison Ford, Jason Segel, and Jessica Williams, all of whom play therapists. The series shares some of its creators with Ted Lasso. It has a big heart and a lot of jokes, even if you absolutely, definitely would not want your therapist to take any cues from it. NPR regarding Shrinking

Shrinking on Apple TV as described on IMDB: “A grieving therapist starts to tell his clients exactly what he thinks. Ignoring his training and ethics, he finds himself making huge changes to people’s lives — including his own.”

Kristen Baldwin, ew.com, calls this series “a funny, brainy grief-com about the power — and dangers — of radical honesty.” (See “Radical Honesty).

In a nutshell, Jason Segel plays therapist and single parent Jimmy, whose wife died a year ago. He’s now a mess.

During the day, a fried and hungover Jimmy heads to work at the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Center, where he struggles to stay engaged as his regular patients recite their regular complaints. Exhausted and pushed to the limits of decorum by a woman (SNL‘s Heidi Gardner) who’s forever making excuses for her emotionally abusive husband, Jimmy erupts. ‘Just f—ing leave him!’ To his surprise, it works. Despite warnings from his methodical boss Paul (Harrison Ford) and newly divorced colleague Gabby (Jessica Williams), Jimmy decides to continue his ‘psychological vigilante’ approach with his newest patient, Sean (Luke Tennie), a military vet who keeps getting into violent altercations with strangers.

But Linda Holmes, NPR, believes the hyped radical honesty isn’t actually a large part of the series. Larger is “that on top of his own struggles, he has to listen to everybody else’s — one of the themes of the show is that even your therapist has stuff.”

It’s Paul’s opinion, in fact, that Jimmy has compassion fatigue; however, this doesn’t excuse his behavior. (See this previous post about a therapist in therapy and this one on impaired therapists.)

Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times: “If he were a responsible [therapist] he’d have taken a sabbatical and sent his clients elsewhere, because if this is how he’s doing after a year, one wonders how he was getting on at three or six or nine months…”

So, what do other reviewers think about how it all goes down in Shrinking?

Nate Richard, Collider: “Shrinking is a series that never laughs at its characters’ misfortunes or faults; it’s not a mean-spirited show by any definition, but it is sincere. Mental health hasn’t always been portrayed in the best way across the media landscape, and despite it becoming much more accepted in today’s climate, there are certain areas that are still two large steps behind in accurately portraying it in a meaningful way. Shrinking, to its benefit, seems like a major step forward…”

But Nick Schager, The Daily Beast, isn’t having it. Jimmy is “a jerk, an idiot, and a lousy doctor all at once, and the show’s attempt to make that cute and okay—because, you see, it’s a byproduct of the inner pain he can’t face—is its prime, if far from only, failing.”

Back to Linda Holmes (NPR), who remarks, on the other hand, that in addition to its great ensemble cast (which also includes Michael Urie, Christa Miller, and Ted McGinley, to name a few), the series “is a bright spot in a very crowded landscape that isn’t always this good at taking pain and decency — and comedy — and giving them all room to breathe.”

I will probably pass, by the way. Why? I’m just generally tired of bad therapy boundaries and ethics on TV and in movies. But if you have decided to watch it, please feel free to let me know what you think! I can be open!