Exceptional cast shines

Finding comedy in grief

“The one thing I hate in film and TV is when you watch something that is just grim, grim, grim, and has no humour. I always think that’s badly made up."

At its heart, Shrinking is a family story. It’s a story about grief. And it’s a story about growth.

Jimmy, played by Jason Segel, is a therapist who has recently lost his wife. He also has a 17-year-old daughter, Alice, who he’s desperately trying to reconnect with.

But it’s a story about Jimmy’s wider network of family. His neighbour Liz, who took over parenting Alice in the wake of her mother’s death and her father’s spiral, and her husband Derek, Jimmy’s best friend Brian, a young patient named Sean and Jimmy’s colleagues, Paul played by Harrison Ford and Gaby, who was his wife’s best friend.

It’s a dark comedy in which the therapist, in the midst of his grief, becomes radically honest with his patients and begins to tell them how he really feels about their problems. It’s one of the themes of the show – even your therapist has their own problems.

The show is written by Bill Lawrence and Brett Goldstein (of Ted Lasso fame), who were both working on ideas about grief, considering how to make a funny show about something so dark.

“The one thing I hate in film and TV is when you watch something that is just grim, grim, grim, and has no humour. I always think that’s badly made up. I’m like, ‘You didn’t watch life.’ Because that isn’t how life is,” Goldstein, who grew up in a Jewish home, told The Hollywood Reporter. “Like, you read about people who survive the Holocaust, and they talk about laughing. People in war zones, they make jokes.”

So, what was the premise behind the setting of therapy? Lawrence explained that it was just natural, saying, “We’re Hollywood guys, so, spoiler alert, we’re all shrinked up.”

Jason Segel in Shrinking

Goldstein went a little bit more in depth.

“It’s so intimate and they know everything and it can go on for years and years, and yet, there are these boundaries. You don’t really know about them … they are people, too, and they have their own problems in their own lives. So, there’s drama and comedy inherent in that relationship,” he said.

The casting is brilliant, especially when it comes to the chemistry onscreen, and the show manages to be funny and dramatic all at once.

Spotlight here on Ford, who by the way, is funny.

Goldstein said that the casting of Ford originally started as a joke, as the team searched for someone like Ford. But according to Segel, Goldstein “heroically got him”.

Explaining that when Ford was in London filming Indiana Jones, Goldstein was stunned to receive a call from the Hollywood heavyweight.

“I went to his apartment to discuss it. And the discussion was very, very quick because he wanted to do it. I thought I’d be there to convince him. Nope,” he recalled.

“When I met him, he had thoughts about how the character dressed and he wanted to talk about all the things that related to his life.

“He was like, ‘I see this and this is what I would like to bring to it and tell me about the rest of it.’ It wasn’t all just, ‘How do I shine?’”

Segel reiterated the sentiment, saying Ford makes everyone around him feel like a peer and Lawrence explained that while the initial concept was those around Ford being funny, and the former reacting gruffly, it soon became clear that Ford was in it for the laughs.

“Harrison Ford’s here to make comedy, not to react to comedy,” Lawrence said.

It’s a heartfelt show that makes you laugh and cry in the same scene, taking pain, friendship and drama, and mixing it all together with comedy. And somehow, it all works seamlessly together.

Season one of Shrinking is available to stream on Apple TV.

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