Shrinking lays the groundwork for a festive season finale
I will say this about Shrinking’s penultimate episode of season one: It surprised me not once, not twice, but thrice. One surprise made me almost irrationally angry. Another made me giddy, while its final one proved that the show’s writers long drawn out narrative arcs are finally starting to pay off. And so, as usual, I find myself being torn about this show as a whole, one with parts that are often so much better than their sum. Also, I remain convinced Jimmy and his antics are the least successful aspect of the show…which reminds me of that other Bill Lawrence sitcom which only became better once it dispensed with its premise/title—cough CougarTown cough—and leaned into the effervescent chemistry of its illustrious ensemble. There may yet be hope that this Apple TV+ series can follow suit.
Surprise one: Gaby has a wonderful lunch with her ex where she gets to gloat about being right about the painting all along. (She is his muse.) And while their flirtatious energy all but suggested our favorite print-dress-loving therapist would fall right back into old habits she all but “booped” herself and…slept with Jimmy. Again!
Oy. I guess I was wrong the other day when I compared Jimmy/Gaby to Ross/Rachel. Their dynamic looks like it’s gonna go the way of Monica/Chandler. (And yes, the fact that I still think about sitcom couple plots in terms of Friends is a personal failing but I am a child of the 1990s after all.) Anyway, the reveal, while it did surprise me, made me sigh with exasperation as well. Especially as it was framed by a “safe” (“decent? consistent? working class?”) dick conversation. I hesitate to call the show sex positive since so much of its humor also depends on a “teenager giggling at himself in titillating shame” sensibility. And so, even as it tries to make light of what’s ostensibly a fuckbuddy (or, if we want to be more PG-rated, a “friend with benefits”) situation, Shrinking cannot help but go full Dad Joke on us so as to neuter any crackling sexual tension. You can’t get more meta than having one of your characters all out call your leading man “safe dick,” right?
Surprise two: Grumpy McGrumperson, a.k.a. Harrison Ford I mean Paul, has just won a lifetime achievement award. Did it come at the expense of irrevocably ruining his relationship with his daughter? Perhaps. But the more Paul has been forced to think about his own mortality, the more he’s come to realize that maybe other people’s problems, while central to his identity as a therapist, need not be the be end all of his life—especially at such a juncture. Continuing the streak of matching Ford with funny sitcom mainstays, this episode had Ford go toe to toe with The Middle’s Neil Flynn, who tried to push Paul into being more than a therapist while also getting him to acknowledge he has done good work over the years.
Well, even as he was egged on to make a big gesture to show how much he cares for people in his life, it turns out that showing up unannounced at his doctor’s house (HOW DID HE GET HER ADDRESS?!) wasn’t it: In fact, despite leading us to believe this late blooming couple would be headed for Vegas where Paul would begrudgingly receive his award, we find that, instead, he’s flown to see his grandson play an elephant in his school play. It’s a touching and revealing moment (god bless Lily Rabe, seriously) and one which worked precisely because it showed Paul doing good on his promise to work on himself and avoid becoming the curmudgeon he always saw himself as.
(Will I nitpick the fact that here’s yet another example of two grown adults skirting the line of propriety that seemingly violates key doctor/patient dynamics? Eh. It’s clear by now Shrinking lives almost exclusively in sitcom land where recurring guest stars are almost exclusively romantic partners in the making.)
Which brings us to surprise three: Alice and Jimmy’s grieving process have been key to the entire first season of this mental-health comedy. And here, finally, we see them collide. Watching Alice slowly realize that she’d totally blanked on her mother’s birthday the day before (all while enjoying a lovely listening party with her dad, a moment of bonding they’d both been craving in their own way) was heartbreaking. It’s the kind of narrative pay off you could only pull off in a penultimate episode.
Less surprising? Brian’s entire wedding storyline.
Jason Segel continues to show that he’s an expert at sadsack middle aged men (“marriage” as a trigger word was pretty funny, as was Liz’s peanut I mean blueberry gallery moment). And Michael Urie can make an anal retentive gay man sing on any given day. I am excited that, in true classic sitcom fashion, we’re headed for a full-blown wedding themed season finale. (Do you think they’ll go to Vegas or to London next year? I kid! I kid! And those are Friends references, for those wondering.) But yes, let’s see if Brian and Charlie can get through their I Dos in one piece next week.
- “What is a Goo Goo Doll?” is just a perfect line/joke/question.
- For those keeping track, this episode found a way to bring our characters together by… say it with me: celebrating Derek’s retirement!
- Is there a comedy handbook where “Jason Segel running is funny” is some sort of sitcom dictum? Because it does feel like Shrinking’s writers live by it.
- “Greases my peach”: yay or nay?
- Speaking of Gaby, I wonder what kind of show Shrinking could be if it tilted its focus to her. Getting to see her interact with her patients has been a joy, especially in this episode, where her commitment to getting more therapists who look like her in itself feels like such novel ground for comedy that it made me wish we didn’t need to then shuttle back into Jimmy/Paul/Brian’s storylines.
- On that note: At this point Sean feels like he exists in a different show. Perhaps a spin-off about his new catering business, now angel funded by Liz and Derek? I’d watch it, if only so that its writers would give Luke Tennie more to do. He’s clearly talented and has his dry-witted delivery down pat.
- This next comment is going to age me and also give an insight into my comedic sensibility, but while Jimmy and Tia’s “What A Ride Choo Choo!” photo book should’ve reminded me of Carl and Elli’s Adventure book from Up!, all I kept thinking was Ralph’s “I Choo Choo Choose You” card from The Simpsons. And if you have to look up either of those references, you’re welcome.
- Should we applaud or condemn Shrinking for getting Harrison Ford to say “safe dick”? Jury’s still out. Getting him to engage in a conversation about “gambling and whoring together” (“I go hard”) is indisputably a fun time.