LA Shrinks debuts tonight on Bravo at 10 p.m. Eastern.
“Being a therapist, you’re being hired by the hour, you’re helping people, but at the same time you’re holding people’s innermost secrets. You’re somewhere between a priest and a prostitute.” —Dr. Gregory Cason
Bravo’s problem has never been finding entertaining people to film while they seemingly go about their daily—yet fabulous—lives. These people are prettier than us, richer than us and doggone it, people like them. The people who populate these shows are in low stakes professions. They’re housewives, real estate agents, and matchmakers, despite how many times the “million dollar” prefix is attached to a show title. These characters define themselves by their careers—it’s why they’re famous after all—but the dramatic beats generally arise from interpersonal tension, even in the case of professional trauma. If Tabatha doesn’t actually take over, the world won’t end.
Maybe that’s why LA Shrinks seems a little dirtier than Bravo’s other efforts in this area. Shouldn’t therapy be on a different level than flipping houses, as if there’s actually something sacred in helping other people that shouldn’t be exploited for the dramatic? Filming therapy sessions hasn’t worked out particularly well in the past for the patients, so LA Shrinks clients keep it light, mainly discussing sex. The first case features a couple in which the woman complains that her partner’s penis is just too large, and goes on to say that she’s grossed out by bodily secretions. Another wife demands more sex from an unwilling husband, who looks on like a helpless baby bird. A third, solo client visitsDr. Gregory Cason to talk about her rage issues, but that slowly turns into a discussion about her sex life. “My boyfriend says my clit is so big, it’s like balls,” the woman says. On national TV.
This woman is the most uncomfortable to watch. She screams and curses, hulking out because of the drive over to Cason’s office. She’s the one who, out of three sessions shown, seems the most truly disturbed. Therapy sessions aren’t new to the reality genre. Reality characters spill basic versions of their psychoses and their therapists give simplified versions of how to fix it. These sessions are usually inserted for sympathetic means, to round out characters backstory or to force empathy on the viewer. She cries so she can’t be that much a bitch, right? There’s a benefit to that invasion of privacy. But the people on the couch in LA Shrinks are not the main characters, but the supporting ones. There’s no benefit to watching these randos get shrunk. What do they get out of it? What’s their motive other than an exceedingly awkward 15 minutes? That’s when LA Shrinks feels like you’re watching something you shouldn’t be watching.
Saving LA Shrinks from the complete sleaze of something like Celebrity Rehab is the decision to focus on the personal lives of the profiled councilors, allowing action to arise from the three shrinks in question. The therapy sessions are, at least in the first episode, only one small piece of the larger show that focuses on the shrinks rather than their clients. While LA Shrinks is at one with other professionally-based reality shows on Bravo, there’s one aspect that makes it unique: The councilors don’t interact with each other, at least not yet. Bravo reality shows spend little time on exposition, assuming that we’ll believe these women who just met have become fast friends. LA Shrinks feels off-formula if only because there’s no episodic convocation. It’s not necessarily negative that the people profiled within don’t actually talk to each other, if only because each character can stand alone, although none of them are compelling enough to warrant their own show.
Dr. Venus Nicolino, or Dr. V as she refers to herself, is the most cartoonish of the three shrinks, but she’s also the most fun to watch. She’s bottle blonde with Farrah Fawcett feathered hair, and first appears on screen in a bra and underwear. She’s a mother of four who smokes cigarettes in her home office and curses a lot. She’s brassy and exactly what I want in my over-the-top reality centerpiece. “We’re not diseased, we’re not disordered, we’re human beings,” she says. “No you don’t have narcissistic personality disorder, you’re an asshole. No, you don’t have borderline personality disorder, you’re a moody bitch.”
Cason’s personal life revolves around preparations for a commitment ceremony to his longtime partner Kevin. He should be the blandest of the three, but then he’ll unleash a quote like the above epigraph, or turn a therapy session into a chance to talk about himself with a client because he believes Freud’s ideas that an analyst should be a blank slate are “bullshit.” He’s a sleeper character, not as loud as Dr. V, but considerable tears and soundbites are sure to be on the way. Eris Huemer, the third shrink on opposite sides of the couch, is a relationship councilor who, like Cason, uses her clients’ issues to reflect on herself and her relationship with her husband. Their main problem as a couple, of course, revolves around their lack of sex. The acknowledgment that mental health professionals also receive help or have problems is not as shocking of a concept as LA Shrinks makes it out be. Psychoanalysts have to go through treatment themselves as part of their training. Hell, HBO already fictionalized it (Israel did it before that) for TV. But peering in on Huemer’s deficient sex life feels a little better than hearing about the marital problems of a couple whose names don’t even a get a spot on the marquee.