Of course, a large part of the selling point of “Shrinking” is Harrison Ford, now appearing in his second TV series in just the last few months, alongside the “Yellowstone” prequel “1923.” Here, Ford is low-key and deadpan, in a role that is a more laid-back riff on a character dynamic from another Lawrence show, Scrubs. There, lead character J.D. was mentored by the grouchy but lovable Dr. Cox. Here, Jimmy already treats Paul as his mentor, even though the latter would sometimes rather be left alone in his so-called “fortress of solitude.” His colleagues know he’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but don’t even know if he lives in an apartment or a house; unsurprisingly, personal details become more gradually revealed throughout the season as Paul becomes more emotionally available to his friends and family. Ford ends up fitting in very nicely with the rest of the ensemble, his innately dry delivery fitting in very well in situations that go against the image of him as an ultimate hero, whether it’s trying Fun Dip for the first time, learning about the romantic concept of “safe d***”, or (perhaps inevitably) getting high.
“Shrinking,” like the other shows mentioned here, is largely so enjoyable in part because it ends up eschewing its initial setup. “Ted Lasso” starts by seeming like it will primarily be a wacky fish-out-of-water comedy about how lost the title character is overseas because of how little knowledge he has of European football, before revealing itself as a defter character study. “Cougar Town” (goofy title aside) ends up being less about age-gap relationships and more about burgeoning friendships. The pilot episode of “Shrinking” — written by the three creators and directed by James Ponsoldt — is shakiest because it waits a little bit of time to fully explain some of the gaps. The image of Segel air-piano-playing to the opening prelude of Billy Joel’s “Angry Young Man” is how the show begins, waiting until near the final moments to reveal that Jimmy is a widower; we start with Jimmy at a low point but also seeming like a genuinely terrible person. It’s to Segel’s credit as much as the writers’ credit that Jimmy becomes vastly more likable very quickly. Part of that is through his relationship with his new patient Sean; the initial connection that Jimmy makes with him is tenuous at best. But by the time the younger man’s defenses are lowered, the show gets stronger.
It helps that “Shrinking” is bursting to the seams with an immensely talented ensemble cast. It’s no surprise that Miller and Williams are so funny (and delightful when paired together, which is thankfully often). Some of the supporting players know how and when to get big laughs from not much dialogue, too. And the younger cast (Tennie and Maxwell particularly) are also a lot of fun while showcasing important dramatic depth. The best thing you can say about a hangout show is that you genuinely want to spend more time with the characters. And that’s exceedingly true of “Shrinking.” It’s a lot like “Cougar Town,” especially in a couple of ways — there’s a fair amount of drinking, it’s laugh-out-loud funny, its pilot is a bit shaky, and its title is a bit goofy. But the end result is worth it.
“Shrinking” premieres on Apple TV+ on January 27.