In the Apple TV+ comedy series Shrinking, a therapist advises those who grieve to spend 15 minutes a day listening to a truly sad song. The logic is that by making time exclusively for grief, you can get it out of your system. Now evoking grief is a fine plan but, unlike a patient told by a therapist that their time is up, it doesn’t go away. Grief sits there, uncomfortably, outlasting its welcome. Yet, as the show points out, we must—occasionally—extend it an invitation.
Shrinking is a comedy about psychiatry and mental health created by the team behind Ted Lasso—a combination that sounds both catastrophic and comforting. In the first episode, an irresponsible therapist compels a client to leave her husband, then declares himself a “psychological vigilante” His idea is that therapists, who listen but never instruct, should get their hands dirty and help clients practically. It’s an intriguing concept, given that therapists steer clear of telling patients what to do. They are hemmed in by guidelines forbidding them to be prescriptive. Shrink-wrapped, as it were.
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This is, of course, a highly unethical, exploitative approach to therapy (and this unacceptable behaviour is demonstrated in Apple TV+ miniseries The Shrink Next Door) but what Shrinking creators Bill Lawrence, Brett Goldstein and Jason Segel get right is that everyone calls out this vigilante nonsense. Jimmy (played by Segel as one of his trademark sloppy man-child characters) is ridiculed by his peers, and there are significant consequences to his heedlessness. Most derisive is the older therapist who came up with the sad song idea. His name is Paul, and he is played by… Harrison Ford.
This is Ford’s first comedy series and the legend brings that sarcastic, no-nonsense style we have seen on talk shows—on The Graham Norton Show, for instance, he pretended to forget co-star Ryan Gosling’s name—to this sitcom. Segel’s Jimmy is well-intentioned but too oafish to really like, especially over the first three uneven episodes, but Ford is immensely entertaining right from the get-go, gorging on junk food, wearing fedoras others don’t appreciate, and basically doing his own thing—even if his thing is distributing potatoes in office.
“You a potato girl?” he asks, only to be shut down by his colleague Gabby. “No Paul, I’m a strong black potato woman.” Played by Jessica Williams, Gabby is an instantly great character, casually making Shrinking less saccharine and more dirty, giving the show edge and sharpness. Shrinking starts off shaky but smartly written women like Gabby—and Jimmy’s neighbour Liz, played by Christa Miller—make sticking around easy. Like the platitudes promise: It gets better.
In Ted Lasso, fresh biscuits can solve all problems. Therapy, as those of us in it are aware, deals with tougher and less tangible beasts. It takes time. I was surprised, therefore, by Shrinking’s candour, where a character is described as having “resting dead wife face”. Later, another character snarls, “What makes you think I’m not fucking happy?” The reply comes at him as a list: “The question, the way you asked it, the way you put ‘fucking’ right in front of ‘happy’. Kinda giveaways.”
There is a lot of empathy here, and some lump-in-throat moments but more than anything, this is a happy comedy with characters who talk it out and yet don’t seem to know better. Among all its confused characters—including therapists wrestling with their own demons—a 17-year-old girl seems the most reasonable. Shrinking may be about flouting the rules of therapy but breaks no rule itself: There are no instructions to be found here.
There is, instead, the glorious sight of Harrison Ford high on marijuana gummy bears and chewing his own necktie.
My favourite Harrison Ford scene is not from the Indiana Jones films or the Star Wars movies. It’s from the 1988 comedy Working Girl by the great Mike Nichols. Ford plays a mergers-and-acquisitions specialist, speaking on the phone in his glass-windowed office He’s all business, all jargon as he tells Melanie Griffith about their project, then coolly invites her to lunch. While speaking into the phone, he changes his shirt. That instantly makes the ladies in the workplace drop everything, call out to one another, and stare shamelessly at a blissfully unaware Ford. They would all get hauled up by Human Resources today, but when Ford finally turns around and sees them gazing and cheering outside his office, the ladies give him a round of applause.
The creators of Mad Men may or may not admit it but that scene is where Don Draper was born. That is Harrison Ford: cool as ice, in on the joke, easy on the eyes, charming without ever — ever — trying to be.
Now, at 80, his deadpan delivery is even deadlier. Jimmy accidentally tells a patient to calm down by masturbating instead of meditating, and Ford harrumphs, “They both work.” Trying to scare a young college boy, Ford stares him down till he literally gulps. And while it isn’t hard to see Han Solo as a tough guy, this is a more vulnerable character than meets the eye. He’s wise and wizened, befuddled by the younger generations surrounding him. In many ways, a man out of time who would do better with a whip or a laser-gun in hand. Yet here he is, grappling with things in plain sight that aren’t always visible. It’s a tough job, massaging the temples of gloom.
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