Do you want to see Indiana Jones get high?
That trite teaser, though entirely accurate, is just one reason to watch “Shrinking,” a new dramedy series (premiering Jan. 27 on Apple TV+) from some of the delightfully offbeat minds behind “Ted Lasso.”
But don’t expect many direct parallels between the two shows, one an Emmy-winning series about a hapless American football coach wrangling a British soccer team and the other a new comedy about a filter-free therapist (Jason Segel) dealing with crippling grief.
“If there’s any parallel between the two shows, it’s that both are about people you hopefully want to spend more time with,” says “Shrinking” co-creator Brett Goldstein, who was a writer on “Lasso” and won an Emmy for his role as cantankerous but lovable footballer Roy Kent last year.
“There’s mainly a consistency of vibe and an acknowledgement that things are rough, but we’ll figure it out,” Segel adds. We may go darker than ‘Ted Lasso,’ but they both have a hopeful undercurrent.”
“Shrinking” could see the “Lasso” veterans score once more. It’s the story of Segel’s grieving shrink, Jimmy Laird, whose crisis forces him to give his patients his unvarnished take on their problems while attempting to reassemble the pieces of his life with the assistance of friends and coworkers.
Liz (Christa Miller), a mother with empty-nester blues, and feisty coworker Gaby are among his support network (former “Daily Show” correspondent Jessica Williams).
Getting Ford was like “throwing an idea down a well.”
Dr. Paul Rhodes, the gang’s cognitive therapy office boss, is played by none other than Ford, 80, who is enjoying his first small-screen renaissance thanks to his role in the “Yellowstone” prequel “1923,” alongside Helen Mirren.
Rhodes has a secret that causes him to become significantly altered at one point in the series, all to such dry comic effect that one wonders if the man who played hard-boiled operative Jack Ryan might find a late-stage career on the stand-up circuit.
Goldstein and fellow “Shrinking” co-creators Segel and Bill Lawrence (who created “Ted Lasso” with its star, Jason Sudeikis, writer and actor Brendan Hunt, and Joe Kelly) discussed how Ford was brought on board, why therapy seems like the right profession to parse for laughs, and how our pandemic times influence what we seek in entertainment.
“It shouldn’t have been this easy,” Goldstein says from London, where he just finished filming the third and final season of “Lasso.” He claims that getting Ford was almost a joke in and of itself.
“We figured, ‘Let’s ask him for a day, and then we’ll find someone else.'” “It was probably an idea down the well,” he says.
But Lawrence, who created “Shrinking” with Goldstein primarily via Zoom calls, had a leg up. In Los Angeles, Ford lives just up the street from him. “So I figured if I sent the script, at least he’d know who I was,” Lawrence, whose credits include “Spin City” and “Scrubs,” says.
Ford called almost immediately to express his displeasure. “‘My character isn’t huge in the pilot; does that change?’ said Harrison.” And I replied, ‘Well, if the character is played by you, yes!’ Let’s just say his reaction caught me off guard.”
The show’s creators noticed the same thing during rehearsals: Ford was there to work, not to preen. “Even at the first table read, I could see the glee in his eyes as he got laughs, and I thought, ‘Right, he hasn’t done proper comedy, so this might be really exciting for him,'” Goldstein says.
Lawrence claims that Ford is direct in his comedic direction. “He’ll just say to us, ‘How do I make this funny? ‘I’m curious.’ He’s a college student.”
Who better to know about great timing than Segel? “He has genuine comedy moves; he wasn’t just there to say lines ironically,” he says, referring to the previously mentioned altered-state scene, which he compares to a British screen legend. “You’ll see Harrison Ford go full Peter Sellers.”
Therapists on TV: A fantastic tool worthy of further investigation
“What a wonderful tool for revealing things about your main character,” Lawrence says of using therapy as a plot anchor. “Just consider ‘The Sopranos.'” We got to see Tony’s true self when he started seeing a therapist. But then I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if the therapist is the main character?'”
Both Lawrence and Goldstein acknowledge that they have benefited from therapy in their personal lives, which has influenced their writing. Though therapists have been used in a number of recent shows, including Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd’s dark comedy “The Shrink Next Door,” which is also available on Apple TV+, and “Lasso,” the duo felt their premise had new possibilities.
“My version of this show was darker than Bill’s; he lightened it up a little,” Goldstein jokes. “However, I enjoyed delving into what is essentially a very strange relationship. The therapist is aware of everything, but there are limits.”
Segel was drawn to the idea of a therapist “suddenly colouring outside the lines” after experiencing a life-changing tragedy. “I’m both blessed and cursed with having no pride or shame, and seeing someone in their raw state can be entertaining,” he says.