New Apple TV+ hit comedy Shrinking has marriage on the brain this week.
Brian is finally proposing to Charlie. That couldn’t come at a better time for Jimmy, who is not ready but suddenly has to be ready to relive the last few weeks of his marriage when old friends come over. It’s also not great timing for Gaby, who is trying to roger her way to clarity over her divorce.
Meanwhile, Paul’s upset that his daughter cares too much about him. And Jimmy’s daughter Alice and his troubled patient Sean endure an awkward moment. Even the few laughs it serves up can’t make this week’s episode of Shrinking, entitled “Impostor Syndrome,” more than cloying and predictable.
Shrinking recap: ‘Impostor Syndrome’
Season 1, episode 6: Troubled vet Sean (played by Luke Tennie) is finally opening up to his therapist Jimmy (Jason Segel) about his time in the Middle East as a soldier. And Jimmy’s boss Paul (Harrison Ford), who finally told his daughter about his Parkinson’s disease, commends Sean for making the same move and facing the pain.
Meanwhile, Jimmy and Paul’s co-worker Gabrielle (Jessica Williams) is trying to sleep around a little after her divorce, but she’s too self-conscious. She can’t get in the mood. She calls Liz (Christa Miller) to complain. She tries to tell Gaby that it’s normal to be having trouble. It seems like Liz is helping everyone today: She also gives Paul some weed to help with his illness.
Since their friend Brian (Michael Urie) is finally going to propose to Charlie (Devin Kawaoka), he asks to use Jimmy’s house for the occasion. Jimmy relents eventually after Alice (Lukita Maxwell) tells him to. But the thought of opening the house up for a party — something his deceased wife Tia (Lilan Bowden) loved doing — makes him nervous.
Let’s get this party started
Naturally, the party gets off to a terrible start because everyone is telling James how great he and his wife were together, and telling Gaby how sorry they are for her divorce. So they get drunk. Plus, Paul shows up the highest he’s ever been because he takes too much of Liz’s weed.
Jimmy soon embarrasses Alice, who flees to her bedroom, so Sean goes to comfort her. She tries to kiss him and he stops her. “You’re just a kid,” he says, and that sentence sticks out during his polite rejection.
Later, Jimmy confesses to Gaby that he and Tia had their own problems toward the end of her life. In fact, Jimmy says he thought Tia wanted to divorce him before she died. So he gets totally wasted and messes up Brian’s proposal to Charlie by puking all over the piano.
Undeterred, Charlie says yes anyway. Then Gaby tries to comfort Jimmy by reminding him that Tia really did love him, and she has photos of the two of them staring lovingly at each other to prove it. Then they have sex. Fin.
The joke’s not funny, no matter how many times you tell it
There is nothing an average comedy writer likes more than making his characters laugh at jokes they’re very proud of. And in this episode we get a clear example. Jimmy describes the human brain as a boardroom full of assholes, and one of them is a guy who tells you to eat hot wings even after you’ve eaten dinner. He tries to get back on track, but then stops himself.
“I’m sorry … all I can think about are hot wings,” Jimmy says. Then he and Sean both laugh and laugh and laugh.
Feh. This stuff happens every episode on Shrinking, but it felt especially egregious this week because the thing that was supposed to be funny, and really could have been if they’d thought it through, was a big fat letdown.
Let’s watch Harrison Ford act high
This week’s big would-be showstopper is when Paul gets super-high. The writers have (as writers do) written the comedy version of a drug trip that bears no resemblance to the real thing. Paul takes so many edibles he should be immobile and sweating from every pore, but he’s just a little grumpy and touchy. Sure thing. It’s also kind of a “been there, done that” thing, the idea of us laughing at the mere thought of a character played by geriatric Han Solo getting super high.
I don’t know where the writers have been exactly, but Harrison Ford is now more famous for getting high than he is for being Indiana Jones. His late-night interviews where he’s apparently stoned out of his gourd are the stuff of dorm room legend.
When I think of Harrison Ford, I think of the man who went on Conan O’Brien’s show for the press lead-up to Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull and, when asked why he agreed to play the part, rubbed his hands together like a cartoon bank robber and hissed the word “money” like a tea kettle coming to boil. You’re going to have to do better than having him listen to some Hall & Oates and call Liz’s husband the waiter for me to laugh at the idea of Ford getting stoned.
Shrinking keeps the stakes small
There are no surprises with the Alice and Sean storyline, either. Shrinking is too polite to have a 17-year-old have sex with someone legally older than her — it’s just not that kind of show.
This is a wine-and-yoga show, where they joke about drugs but don’t accurately portray their effects, and joke about sex being a miracle but are afraid of it. This is not a real mistakes show. And every time the writers tiptoe up to the line of someone doing something really bad, they dance right back to where they started.
Sure, Sean can beat up a guy in the pilot — but his victim clearly had it coming. No one blames Sean, and he gets better. So naturally, Sean must be so saintly that he wouldn’t touch Jimmy’s daughter. Whatever.
We’ve passed the halfway point of Shrinking. Let’s scamper to the finish line and the inevitable renewal for a second season. I’ll be pouring myself a large brandy in the meantime.
Watch Shrinking on Apple TV+
New episodes of Shrinking arrive every Friday on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.