SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers for Season 1 of “Shrinking.”
You’ve heard this before, but Bill Lawrence already knows when his show is going to close. “We pitched three seasons — the beginning, middle and end,” he says.
No, not “Ted Lasso,” which is widely known to have been planned as a three-season arc, even if the team involved won’t confirm that the current season is the last one.
It’s different with “Shrinking.” “It does not have a sports season component to it the same way that that’s a function of the story. Like, ‘I wonder if they win or lose!’” Lawrence says. “Part of the fun for me in doing shows with, like, Jason Segel and Harrison Ford, is that you can tell actors that you’ve always wanted to work with, ‘If you give me three seasons, that’s fine if you want to split.’ So all I can tell you is that all the gang that we roped in for this one was down for doing that.”
Therefore, he and co-creators Brett Goldstein and Jason Segel have already made plans for Season 2, greenlit earlier this month, and a potential Season 3.
Season 1, which starred Segel as Jimmy, a therapist who recently lost his wife in a car crash, focused on the theme of grief. And while grief will obviously remain a part of the show, “Shrinking” has other topics to cover.
“The second year is about forgiveness, and the third year is about moving forward,” Lawrence reveals — but don’t forget that this is a half-hour comedy.
“Brett has put it really well: I think the line that we hit is sort of the tone of life,” Segel says about the show’s balance of comedy and drama. “We all know people who are just properly miserable, and behave that way. And that’s a hard thing to pull yourself out of. But real people don’t try to show their feelings. They try to hide them. We laugh our way through the hardest moments. I think sometimes we cry our way through the most beautiful moments, because they’re so unexpected and rare. That’s exactly what the show does. It’s a reflection of how we actually experience these things.”
That hiding of emotion is perhaps best represented in Jimmy’s relationship with Gaby (Jessica Williams), his friend and colleague who was his wife’s best friend. In Episode 6, as Jimmy is feeling miserable about the last fight he had with Tia (Lilan Bowden) before she died, and Gaby is feeling miserable about her recent divorce, they kiss.
“Friendship, love, sexual attraction — they’re all so fluid, and they can get confused,” Segel says. “Those feelings are like a ball of spaghetti. They start at one end, and come out on the other, but in the middle, they get all twisted around. So it might take some unraveling for that to become a straight line, and to figure out if they’re both holding the same side of the spaghetti noodle. Is that the weirdest metaphor?”
It is. But put simply, as Williams says, “They’re really close, and they’re in a really shitty spot.” As the two take up a sexual relationship, Gaby tells herself and Jimmy that he is “safe dick,” with no romance attached. But it’s obviously more complicated than that.
“I think she definitely feels guilty. Kissing your best friend’s husband is so crazy,” Williams says. “But in these extremely tragic and sudden circumstances of a car crash, these two people grieving with this missing ingredient just choose to fall into each other.”
Lawrence said a decision was made about “whether or not this Jimmy and Gaby thing went anywhere” from the beginning of the writing process. “The only thing we veered on so far, to tell you the truth, is we didn’t know when we started the show that Gaby and Liz would end up being friends.”
Played by Christa Miller (who is Lawrence’s wife, though she likes to joke that Goldstein is her boyfriend), Liz is Jimmy’s next-door neighbor who steps in to take care of Jimmy’s daughter, Alice (Lukita Maxwell), after Tia’s death drives Jimmy to drug use and other erratic behavior. And as kind as that is, it’s partially a mask: She’s a recent empty nester, and isn’t ready to say goodbye to full-time stay-at-home motherhood.
“She’s grieving, and taking care of Alice is a reprieve from her grief,” Miller says. “She’s a good person; she obviously wants Jimmy to come back and take responsibility and be a good dad. But that’s also a realization that she’s going to have to face her grief, and not going to have that role anymore.”
In their first scene together, Gaby argues on Jimmy’s behalf that Liz needs to back off and let him be a parent, but their passion and frustration quickly become an essential outlet for both of them.
“I love my wife! The second she started playing it like, ‘All I want is for someone that young and cool to think of me as a friend,’ I’m like, I’m in,” Lawrence says. “This is hysterical and weird.”
While Jimmy, Gaby and Paul (Ford) often struggle to articulate the things that pain them, Liz can shout her problems from the rooftops.
“She really knows her boundaries. She says what her boundaries are. I didn’t want her to be this meddlesome neighbor,” Miller says. “She stepped in appropriately with the daughter. Obviously, sometimes, she might kick overboard, but she also has accountability and awareness that she’s going to have to find out something to do.”
Hanging with Gaby became one of those “things to do,” and in the finale, Liz proves the genuineness of that connection. Upon learning that Paul was making Gaby write her own recommendation letter for a teaching job, she storms into Paul’s office to call him out for how sexist it is that he offers Jimmy so much more mentorship.
Though she isn’t in the room, it’s an important moment for Gaby, who is used to being professionally ignored. “It speaks to the power of women, and Black women. Often, we feel like there’s nobody there to listen. We grit our teeth and bear it,” Williams says. “But Liz comes through for Gaby. She ‘moms’ Gaby in a really nice way.”
It works. Paul crashes the job interview to apologize, and declare what an incredible therapist Gaby is — and at the end of the finale, she’s in a much more confident place. Apart from when she shares a glance with Jimmy that prompts Liz to point out that he is not, in fact, safe dick.
And Jimmy is doing better, too, as evidenced by a heartwarming dance scene at the wedding of his best friend, Brian (Michael Urie).
The gleeful movements were not choreographed.
“It was just ‘OK, dance!’ Bill, brilliantly, had already known that the last line of the Jimmy-Alice arc for the season should be, ‘You look so much like your mom!’ to mirror the pilot,” Segel says.
In the pilot, Jimmy says that line with pain; in the finale, it’s said as a celebration.
“So that was in there,” Segel continues. “But the actual dancing was just supposed to be freedom.”
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