I Can't Stomach “Shrinking” Because I'm Sick of Watching Men Fail Up

Jason Segal as Jimmy in Apple+'s Shrinking.

Jason Segal is a zaddy. I would 100 percent marry him and never look back. My parents would love him. My friends would adore him. And I have a feeling my dog would find great comfort cuddling up in his lap. And yet, despite totally seeing a future with him in which we get old and maybe even die together Notebook style, I could not make it through the pilot of his new Apple+ series, Shrinking. I blame it on the pit in my stomach as I bore witness to yet another mediocre man (Segal’s character, not him—he is still very much marriage material) failing upward.

The series, about  “A grieving therapist [who] starts to tell his clients exactly what he thinks. Ignoring his training and ethics, he finds himself making huge changes to people's lives—including his own,” follows two well-trodden TV tropes. The first is known as “let’s humanize a therapist.” We’ve seen it with Lorraine Bracco (who I accidentally pummeled in a Bed, Bath & Beyond) on The Sopranos, Gabriel Byrne (and now Uzo Aduba) on In Treatment and more recently with Steve Carell on The Patient. It’s a rich relationship with ready-made power dynamics to build a story engine around—I get it.

The other trope, however, is the “my perfect wife’s dead and I can’t get my shit together.” Another one we’ve seen a few times before, from Danny Tanner on Full House who needed two proxies to replace his dead wife to Ricky Gervais’s more recent After Life, in which his perfect wife dies and, in his grief, decides to make everyone else’s life a living hell. It’s another rich jumping off point for the surviving characters: how does anything function once the linchpin is removed?

In all my talk earlier about zaddy Jason Segal, I probably forgot to mention that I am actually happily married wife to a man with whom I have a beloved daughter. I do, in fact, identify as a perfect wife, so I have some skin in this game. And if I were to die tomorrow, I would be pissed as hell to peek in from the beyond in the wee small hours of the morning to find my husband chittering with sex workers at the pool as our teenage daughter slept inside, which is how we are introduced to Jimmy, Segal’s character, in Shrinking.

We then learn that Jimmy has bequeathed nearly all parenting responsibilities to his neighbor, Liz. She feeds Jimmy’s daughter, consoles her, parents her and even parents, consoles and feeds Jimmy. I don’t know how Jimmy was as a father, husband or therapist before his perfect wife died, but it seems like he got to pop in and out on his own timeline as his perfect alive wife held everything together, not because she was an extraordinary woman but because that’s what society demanded. Did anyone really question why it took two extra full-time parents to replace the Full House mom?

Just look at Liz: she’s stepping in as parent because…why, again? Because she happens to live next door to a man who has completely dropped the ball. Ya know what’s great about a perfect dead wife? She can’t nag. Only alive wives can. So Liz gets to roleplay nagging wife, while carrying the emotional load for Jimmy’s daughter, all while Jimmy  faces no real consequences besides being bummed out.

Watching Jimmy flail to connect with his daughter and patients does not endear me to him.

I didn’t finish the first episode. I won’t be watching the season, but I can only guess that Jimmy will not only get away with his non-traditional therapy methods that are completely unethical, but he’ll succeed. In fact, he’ll probably, somehow, find himself in a better position than he was before by doing the bare minimum at home and then playing with vulnerable people’s lives at work. That is called failing up.

Jimmy’s wife, on the other hand, was perfect. And look how that turned out for her.

‘Shrinking’ Has the Feel-Good Qualities of ‘Ted Lasso’ (No Wonder, It’s Created by Roy Kent)


Executive Editor, Frazzled Mom, Bravo-Holic

Dara Katz is PureWow's Executive Editor, focusing on relationships, sex, horoscopes, travel and pets. Dara joined PureWow in 2016 and now dresses so much better. A lifestyle...