Anyone who’s spent any time online in the last, let’s say decade, is familiar with the acronym AITA: Am I the Asshole? It’s shorthand for asking online readers (arguably the most insane audience you could ever hope to reach) whether it was you who was in the wrong in a situation where, from your own perspective, it really seemed like you were in the right. A sampling of that infamous Reddit thread right now: “AITA for not letting our daughter move back home?” “AITA for asking my parents to either stay at a hotel or to not have sex in my house while I’m home?” “AITA for leaving my ‘friend’s’ wedding when she told me I needed to cover up my psoriasis?” You get the idea.
I kept thinking back to AITA while watching Shrinking’s fourth episode. Not unprompted; Liz (Christa Miller), after all, basically demanded you think of her spat with Jimmy (Jason Segel) in those terms when she protests against the notion that her stepping up to help raise an neglected teenage girl next door made her the asshole. But then I realized that all of the storylines in this episode—and, perhaps, the entire narrative structure of this amiable TV series about a therapist flailing as he opts to forgo any ethical concerns and decides to tackle his patients’ problems in the most unorthodox ways he can. Which, yes, as we’ve established episode after episode, leaves him more frustrated and with endless more problems than what he’d started with.
And so, rather than rehash the episode beat for beat, I figured we’d reframe each of its subplots into AITA posts:
AITA for telling my neighbor’s colleague that he moved his patient into his pool house?
Ring Video Doorbell (Wired)
Two-way talk function
No need to leave the couch to answer the door anymore. Just pull out your phone and check the Ring app to see who’s there via the 1080p camera.
AITA for not telling my daughter that I have Parkinson’s?
AITA for basically telling my dad that I can’t really host him despite him clearly wanting to connect with me and my son?
AITA for wanting to spend time with my son who’s visiting from college even though he clearly takes my mothering for granted?
AITA for peeing in the flowers whenever my wife takes too long in the bathroom even though she’s asked me repeatedly not to?
AITA for rebuking my patient’s romantic advances during a house visit where I hoped to quell her OCD tendencies?
AITA for refusing to encourage my colleague as he blurs the lines of professionalism with his patients in increasingly deranged ways?
AITA for yelling at my college-aged neighbor after finding out he’d slept with my teenage daughter?
AITA for ghosting my neighbor who I slept with months ago?
Anyways, you get the gist of it. For this episode forced each of these characters to confront the way they’re each coming off—not for nothing does Paul commend Brian (Michael Urie) for his self-awareness. It’s arguably the most prized characteristic you could want, not just in your estate lawyer, but in your friends and your colleagues, and, yes, in your therapist as well.
In a way this seems to be the central conceit of Shrinking, with Jimmy constantly needing to reassess whether what he’s doing—bringing a “beautiful” vet to live in his place, alienating the neighbor’s who’s helped with his teen daughter, pissing off a mentor-like figure whom he admires—and figuring out how to rectify the (oh so many) missteps he’s making every step of the way. And, considering this is someone who lobs lines like “I got a degree in ‘Fucking with that’ from the University of All Up In Your Business…actually, it’s a junior college,” you have to imagine there’s a way in which the show can sometimes risk feeling all too slight for its own good.
Here’s maybe where Jason Segel’s own on-screen persona is a boon and a drawback. For the former How I Met Your Mother actor has the “good guy doing his best” schtick down to a science. And so to watch him wrestle with thorny ethical issues (while on a trampoline, say, or while stomping on his deck) is endearing. Or, it should be. And yet I find myself cringing at Jimmy’s antics, not so much reveling in the awkward laughter he’s supposed to elicit as embarrassed for the glib dialogue he’s called to deliver. Does he sell it? More convincingly than I’d imagine any other actor of his caliber could. I guess I’m just waiting for Jimmy to operate at a different register other than “Oh fuck!” There’s always next week, right?
- Can we talk about Jessica Williams’ costuming? That neon orange jumpsuit/romper situation was equal parts ridiculous and amazing.
- I promise I’ll stop making Ted Lasso comparisons (none of which are fair and which only make Shrinking feel all the more wanting) but “apology bagels” feel of a piece with “butter ’em up shortbread,” no?
- LILY RABE! That’s it. That’s the observation. Am I hoping she’ll be featured more later in the season, likely when Paul has to grapple with those pesky estate papers Brian wanted him to sort out sooner rather than later? Yes, yes I am.
- Speaking of actresses we love on the show, I don’t think I’ve given Christa Miller enough flowers. The Cougar Town vet is here working on a decidedly less strident register (she’s more than a mom, you guys!) and it really suits her, for she really can take on a quip and make it sing. (This episode I’m happy she gave us “I can only love him for like an hour and forty five minutes a day,” a line as funny as it is real.)
- How winkingly self-aware can Shrinking get before its entire premise stars to look naively self-serving?
- Every episode, I’ve argued, has given us nuggets of wisdom courtesy of the show’s interest in openly talking about mental health. (Remember how we learned about compassion fatigue and even about how therapy is hard given the way we tend to narrativize our lives in ways that can sometimes be unreliable?) We didn’t get much of that this time around—though I guess we witnessed a really bizarre side effect to exposure therapy?—but we did get a great piece of advice when it comes to sex: “If the penis is weird you can change your mind.” Solid thought we should all keep in mind on any given sexual situation!
- Is everyone else missing Heidi Gardner as much as I am?