Shrinking, the new Apple TV+ comedy starring Jason Segel as therapist James Laird, starts dealing with the consequences of its lead character’s new ideas about mental health this week. In fact, it looks like maybe James needs a little time on the couch himself.
With one patient supposedly living in Canada with her sister to avoid an abusive husband, one revising his dating game, and one living in James’ poolhouse, his track record doesn’t exactly look successful. Plus, Gabrielle needs a little help, James and Alice find a new outlet for their sadness, and Paul needs his eyes checked.
Unfortunately, this week’s episode of Shrinking proves every bit as frustrating as the first two.
Shrinking recap: ‘Fifteen Minutes’
Season 1, episode 3: James (played by Segel) starts this week’s outing, entitled “Fifteen Minutes,” by eavesdropping on one of his patients while he’s on a first date. James notices that there’s usually a discrepancy between the way people present themselves in therapy and the way they act in real life. He also notes that Alan (Asif Ali) always complains about bad dates. Ergo, something isn’t right.
So James follows Alan to his date. And the second his date stands up to get away from Alan’s blowhard bluster, James sits down and tells him he has to be more vulnerable. Huge breach of ethics? You bet. But it works! Alan texts James a picture of himself with the girl, getting along, a few days later. Hey, that’s just how it is on Shrinking.
Sean (Luke Tennie) is still staying with James and his daughter, Alice (Lukita Maxwell). She is chafing somewhat at the presence of a huge, potentially unstable vet in her house. The neighbors (especially racist Pam) aren’t all cool about James’ new housemate, either. Liz (Christa Miller) voices her concern but realizes that she sounds like Pam, so she backs off a little. She’s having trouble staying out of James’ and Alice’s lives. And that, in turn, is getting in the way of Alice and James reconnecting.
Gabrielle (Jessica Williams), meanwhile, has bought a new Tesla. But no sooner has she pulled into the parking lot at work (blasting Nine Days’ “Absolutely (Story of a Girl),” because the writers on this show really and truly hate me) than Paul (Harrison Ford) hits her car. Gabrielle wants Paul to pay for it, and he admits he’s too old to drive.
He confesses to Alice he doesn’t really think he’s in the wrong, but he knows he’s going to be getting too old for a lot of things very soon. He goes to an old friend (Wendie Malick), a doctor, and asks to take another driver ability test to make sure he isn’t actually in the wrong and endangering people.
Plenty of sadness to go around
Elsewhere, James spies Gabrielle kissing someone who isn’t her husband. So she must confess that she’s getting divorced — and that it’s a good thing for her. This makes James realize he hasn’t been on an even keel with a lot of his friends since the death of his wife, Tia (Lilan Bowden).
Paul points out that, despite his sad demeanor and self-medicating, James hasn’t really started grieving yet. He gives James a trick (the same one he gave Alice): Pick a song, a sad song, and let yourself cry for 15 minutes. James gives it a shot while riding home, and gets doored by a car.
James is vindicated later when Gabrielle confesses she’s actually very sad about the whole thing. She also isn’t over Tia’s death, and she says she hasn’t known where to turn with her own grief. Tia and Gabrielle used to share things. Now she doesn’t share the way she used to, so James agrees to step up.
Liz goes to Paul and asks what he thinks about Sean staying with Alice and James, which catches Paul off guard. He didn’t know that Sean was living with James and Alice, because James deliberately kept Paul in the dark about that. He made James promise his radical new therapy ideas would never interfere with Alice’s well-being, and the idea of a patient sharing a space with them seems like proof positive he did not listen to that at all.
Paul confronts James about this. As James in the middle of defending his new intrusive therapeutic method, he sees Grace (Heidi Gardner) secretly getting back together with Donny (Tilky Jones), the abusive husband she promised James she had left. Maybe James’ method is not working after all …
I’m not smiling
Already the consistency on Shrinking is driving me nuts. Grace started the show as a vacant valley girl. But when we check in on her this week, the character’s completely stripped of the flightiness we saw in episode one. Liz’s husband Derek (Ted McGinley) was introduced as a guy with a sarcastic rejoinder to life’s little unfairnesses. But by this episode, he’s telling old women to “eat a dick” because LA writers’ rooms find absolutely nothing funnier than that phrase.
Last week, the show introduced Liz as a no-nonsense, firm-but-fair caregiver. But by this episode, she’s going to great lengths to separate herself from a racist neighbor, something someone so uptight wouldn’t care to do in such frank terms. (But again, everything on this show is meant to be too-frank, even if this essentially means that every character in the show’s universe thinks, talks, and acts identically, which whatever, it’s TV I guess, but fucking yawn).
Plus, Sean took about one episode to drop his frosty, antisocial demeanor and just become another fast-talkin’, straight-shootin’ member of the Shrinking ensemble.
Exhibit A: This is not a joke
This week’s episode opens with the following exchange, for instance. Alice runs into Sean and gets scared by his presence.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“I’m sorry, too …I didn’t mean to come to the poolhouse … I must be in the poolhouse because you’re not allowed in the main house,” she says.
“You can use regular sarcasm on me because all that complicated shit you just did is unnecessary,” he says.
TV Writers, man … they cannot help themselves. That’s not a joke any human has made without rewrites and a few takes. Maybe on a West End stage in a floor-length frock and a smoking jacket doing a play called Mr. Jackfree’s Missing Ascot you can get away with mannered nonsense masquerading as everyday chitchat. Here, it sounds like phonetically learned Greek.
Unsurprisingly, Harrison Ford is the only person capable of selling all of this. So, for better and much worse, I’m excited for next week’s almost certainly just as enervating outing. At least I get to see more of him.
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.