Allow me to introduce you to 2023's best new TV talent. His name is Harrison Ford and you'll wonder where he's been all of these years. Now, it is entirely possible that you think you have seen him on screen before cracking a whip and fighting Nazis, or witnessing the Amish. But you haven't really seen him like this before...
The idea of a big movie star doing TV isn't a novelty at this stage. The biggest stars of film are now routinely in TV shows and moving back and forth between big and small screen projects. And it makes sense - the small screen is where most of the well-paid meatier roles are these days.
But what is Harrison Ford doing in Shrinking? It is a pretty standard half-hour hang-out comedy. And that isn't being dismissive of half-hour hang out comedies - it is one of my favorite types of TV shows and I love nothing more than a weekly dose of silliness with TV characters I enjoy spending time with regardless of the storyline of the week. But isn't Harrison Ford better than this?
Harrison Ford starring in 1-2 seasons of a prestige drama like Yellowstone prequel 1923 (which debuted just a few weeks ago) makes all the sense in the current TV environment. But it is genuinely confusing seeing him doing a hang-out TV comedy as well this year, considering these are the first two ongoing TV projects he has signed on for. Back in 2009 would you have ever thought Harrison Ford might star in a show like Cougar Town?
Because that's what is going on here.
New series Shrinking is the latest series from veteran TV comedy writer Bill Lawrence (Spin City, Scrubs, Cougar Town). He has teamed up with Ted Lasso star Brett Goldstein (Lawrence was a producer on Ted Lasso) and Kissing Sarah Marshall star Jason Segel to create this new series that is every bit the union of Cougar Town and Ted Lasso. That is to say that it is every bit a hang-out TV show (Cougar Town is best remembered as a show where the characters sat around drinking wine regularly and getting into hijinks), but combined with that strong feel-good emotional core that drove so much attention to Ted Lasso in its first season.
The premise of the show has Jason Segel as a psychiatrist named Jimmy who is dealing with the death of his wife in the year prior. He has let his life fall apart around him (including neglecting his well-natured teenage daughter), allowing himself to fall into a spiral of depression and drugs. One day at work he snaps and just starts telling his patients what he thinks is wrong and how they can improve their lives (instead of helping them come to those realizations themselves).
In addition to leading his patients to make a lot of rash decisions that negatively impact on their lives, it also leads to him inviting an army veteran he's helping to move into his pool house.
While professionally his career is a mess, it helps Jimmy get out of his funk and start living again. He's aided by his next door neighbor Liz (Cougar Town star Christa Miller, also the wife of Bill Lawrence) who has been helping look after his daughter this past year, and her husband Derek (played by a seldomly seen Ted McGinley).
Harrison Ford plays Jimmy's mentor and partner in the clinic, with Jessica Williams (2 Dope Queens) the third partner at the firm. Jimmy also has a highly positively-minded best friend and the aforementioned patient living in his home. Because this is television, it takes only a matter of episodes before all of these characters are interacting and involved in each others lives, removed from Jimmy.
What you need to understand about Shrinking is that it is an absolute delight. It radiates with warmth and good vibes, while treating its characters and the audience like the adults they are.
While it can feel a little sitcommy at times in some of the set-ups, there's enough of a mature vibe running through its central characters that it manages to avoid ever feeling too cloying. So much of that is achieved through the casting of Harrison Ford who gives the show hundreds of percent more gravitas than the show would generally deserve.
While Apple TV+ is releasing this as a weekly series (following an initial 3-episode first day), it is going to prove to be a very comfortable binge watch that viewers will return to in the same way that they re-watch shows like Parks & Recreation, Party Down, or even, yes, Ted Lasso.
But there are too weighty issues with the show that exist, even if viewers are more than willing to look past them:
- All of that business about the premise of the show with Jason Segel's Jimmy working through the darkness and giving his patients poor therapy... it is all largely forgotten just a few episodes in. Sure, the show makes reference to his behaviour, but he has pretty much moved past it by mid-season. And that's fine - it is the aspect of the show that worked least well and is best pushed aside. But it does leave Jimmy with less going on character-wise than the others in the show.
- Harrison Ford is too big a deal than to be here playing a supporting ensemble role like he is. Yes, he is great in the show. But even by the end of the first season you will not quite get past that you are watching Harrison Ford every week in a substantial-in-subject-matter-but-light-in-tone comedy. It's just weird.
Shrinking is great fun. You'll love the characters, laugh along with the jokes, and have a wonderful time with it. If you are looking for more from a TV comedy, you may need some help. And I know just who you should turn to.
Shrinking debuts on Apple TV+ Jan 27 with three episodes. New episodes are released weekly. [10 episode first season]