It may have taken five episodes, but I am happy to report that Shrinking offered us (finally!) some counseling sessions that grappled with the complicated nature of what it means to do “the work.” For it is work—or, it should be. That means there’s effort involved. And a level of difficulty many of us would rather dispense with. Shrinking began with Jimmy (Jason Segel) being fed up with patients who wouldn’t (or couldn’t) do the work, or who couldn’t see what the work should look like, despite it seeming oh-so-obvious to their therapist. It’s why he embarked on a quest to color outside the lines and find unorthodox ways of getting his patients to make good (better!) decisions.
The premise, as I’ve admitted over and over again, has long rubbed me the wrong way. Mostly because it simplifies such work. It’s not just that each of Jimmy’s patients seems to be (improbably) dealing with just one problem at a time (the dream!). But it’s that his attempts to circumvent the work therapy requires has left him feeling more like a life coach and less like a licensed therapist. Take his approach toward Grace (Heidi Gardner): He gave her an ultimatum. Leave your abusive partner or I’ll drop you as a client. Sure, it backfired since she just lied to him and then proceeded to ghost him. But Jimmy’s push had more to do with making a choice rather than, say, changing behavior, understanding the underlying issues, or reframing Grace’s feelings around it all (why might she not think to leave her partner?)…you know, things that we all have to do in order for such choices to stick.
I’m happy we got to see, then, that Jimmy is walking back his kooky therapy approach—and happy that he will now work with Grace again, even if her people-pleasing personality may prove, still, to be an obstacle both will have to overcome.
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.
But back to the way this episode finally showed us what “the work” can look like.
There was Gabby (Jessica Williams) working with a couple who are clearly struggling to remain intimate within a changing situation: Being married may not, on the surface, look all that different from living together, but our minds truly have ways of making such distinctions really pop. The scene, where she encourages the couple to share their insecurities with one another and process them together may not be as flashy as any of Jimmy’s off-kilter takes on therapy (like, say, showing up unannounced at someone’s date). Mostly because it didn’t offer a quick-fix or an easy solution. Also helpful? Seeing Gabby nicely navigate the way boyfriend and girlfriend kept keeping score and celebrating “wins”–arguably a natural if ill-suited response to seeing a couple’s counselor.
Then there was Paul (Harrison Ford) stepping in and helping Jimmy with Sean (Luke Tennie). Yes, that means the national nightmare that was the frosty relationship between unwilling mentor/eager mentee is over. More importantly, we’re spared Jimmy’s awkward attempts to rekindle such a relationship. And really, in between how he helps out Sean sort out his feelings about his medals—let alone his fraught relationship with his father—and how he gets Alice (Lukita Maxwell) to sit with her anger, you finally understand why Jimmy and Gabby so look up to Paul, no matter how much of a curmudgeon he seems. (Side note: We have to side with Alice, because that hat truly has to go.)
Oh, and I guess Brian (Michael Urie) finally coming to terms with how he’s been avoiding getting engaged proved to be yet another boon for Gabby. Does that mean Jimmy is easily the least qualified of the three to help any of his patients? Will we get to see him get back to what he seemingly does best and stop using flashy tricks and actually help his patients—you know, not give them ultimatums or have them move in with him? Maybe! If nothing else, I was happy to see therapy shown to be a process, not a quick-fix kind of deal.
Halfway through the season and I guess we’re finally watching Shrinking finding its groove. Clearly operating as a kind of workplace-cum-family comedy, this Segel-Ford-led project seems to want to find the funny in how we work on our mental health. That is, I’ll admit, quite the ambitious aim. Especially because, couples’ spats aside, the show has taken on quite the heavy subjects. (One of its main characters is a vet; his therapist was doing cocaine and having girls over to deal with his grief just a few weeks back!) The necessary tonal balance needed for that is still, I believe, out of reach here. Not for lack of trying, but it’s hard to take the show in earnest when its vision of reality is so wildly sitcom-ized. (I worry that break room is gonna turn into a Central Perk-style space where they all hang out and never work any time soon.) And yet what it wants to tackle feels so necessarily grounded in a more authentic kind of environment. I’m eager to see all these talented folks continue to try and nail it.
- Jokes like “Kevin Lactaid” are why I can’t shake off the fact that Shrinking would benefit from taking itself just a tad more seriously.
- That said, “itty bitty baby bitch bullshit”? Perfect.
- This week’s therapy lesson, in case you missed it, was “trauma-informed avoidance.” It may have been spelled out for us in Brian’s ring/proposal storyline, but it won’t surprise you to hear that work with veterans like Sean is often geared toward tackling such trauma avoidance.
- Less insightful? Jimmy’s “grab these relationships by the balls” advice. Which, thankfully, was met with the requisite ickiness it deserves.
- “I was the gayest boy in Texas.” I do love having Michael Urie on my television screen again. And now I just do hope Brian can propose to his boyfriend mostly because I’m eager to see more of their dynamic. (Even if he really should’ve been told that, yes, he does have a bit of Smithers going on with that bowtie. Not that anyone hiring him as an estate lawyer would care, tbh.)
- Did everyone breathe a sigh of relief once the Sean/Alice walking date (see note below) ended up going sideways rather than getting us to ponder the ethics of what would happen if the writers had decided to actually get them to hook up?
- Okay, enough episodes have passed that I can voice the one observation I was hesitant to bring up: Is Shrinking the most pedestrian-friendly SoCal-based sitcom in recent memory? Truly, I can’t remember any other series so intent on having its characters walk (walk!) or run to so many places. Sure, the hikes make sense, but does anyone else get the sense that Jimmy needlessly walks and runs everywhere? This shouldn’t be as distracting as it is (not as much, say, as the way Brian randomly drops by his friends’ place of work or how Gabby, Jimmy, and Paul seem to have endless amount of free time in between patients to drop everything and hang out with one another). And yet…this is Pasadena! Why are they walking and or running everywhere? (Then it hit me: This might be a workaround to COVID precautions; it would explain why so many key scenes take place outdoors—in hot tubs and water towers, on hikes and on trampolines, at parks and on decks.)