Review: Shrinking 1×02 – “Fortress of Solitude”

The second episode does not open with Billy Joel, much to my chagrin, but with Jimmy once again being haunted by the memory of his dead wife and a repeated attempt at making amends with his daughter, Alice. She has dinner plans with Liz again, who has become Alice’s ersatz Mom, one of the main narrative strands in this episode. She has even been filling in at guidance counselor appointments, making it hard for Jimmy to spend time with his own daughter now that he’s ready to do so again. Gabby, who as it turns out is Alice’s Godmother, is irked by this, so when she comes to confront Liz about it later in the episode, we learn that Liz’s sons have left for college and she is working through her own emotions about this. Once again, the show reminds us grief comes in many forms, and it’s often all around us. We simply don’t know what anyone else is going through. It’s nice to see Miller in an overall softer role than those she played on Scrubs or Cougar Town, and the cut-away where she honks along to “Psycho Killer” confirmed once again that she’s who I want to be when I grow up.

“Well it’s understandable, you’ve been trying this approach for almost ten minutes.”

Another highlight of Shrinking is Harrison Ford in cardigans, finally living his best old grumpy man life, in a role playing to his natural dry wit. But much like with Ford, there is more to Paul’s gruff exterior: early on the episode we learn that he never invites people to his house, but when Alice doesn’t know where to go, because her and Jimmy are too alike and keep miscommunicating, it’s where she ends up. They’ve been having secret conversations that he doesn’t want Jimmy to know about cause he’d might “want to hug him or something”. It also tells us something about how Jimmy once used to be, before. Before his wife died and he started drinking whiskey from a Santa mug while sitting in the dark.

This episode we also finally meet Jimmy’s best friend Brian (Michael Urie), whose mantra is “everything goes my way” – something he has in common with co-creator Bill Lawrence. But this optimistic attitude is also what has kept Jimmy away from him for almost a year, as he could not handle it after his wife died. He needed to be sad,  hit rock bottom, even, and his friend wouldn’t let him. It’s refreshing to see this addressed head on; both the fact that depression is not something you overcome by a positive attitude or mantras, and how difficult it can be to make your loved ones understand – but also how lost you can feel if you’re the friend just trying to help.

Michael Urie is wonderful in the role, and it’s always great to see an out gay actor play a gay character. It’s also good that he isn’t the only queer representation we get, as we also learn that Alice’s guidance counselor is married to another male teacher. It’s the one thing I have missed in Bill Lawrence’s shows in the past, the homoeroticism of Scrubs’ Turk and JD and the somewhat problematic reveal of Todd as bisexual aside. Colin’s suspicious knowledge of Grindr on Ted Lasso of course gives me hope for Season 3 of that show, but I digress – it is just nice to see, is all, especially because it feels quite natural, so hat tip to Brett Goldstein’s writing here. I wish in 2023 I’d no longer even have to mention this, but sadly I do, and I hope we will encounter more queer, and more diverse queer people as the season progresses. (Racial diversity on this largely white-male centric show despite its fairly diverse supporting cast is something I will come back to another week.) It’s also heartening to see more of the same non-toxic masculinity that makes Ted Lasso so special – Jimmy and Brian say “I love you” to each other, and it’s another thing I wish I did not have to point out.

“Nobody goes through this life unscathed… But then you’re left with a choice: are you gonna let your grief drown you, or are you gonna face it, come through the other side?”

Much like in the first episode, Jimmy’s conversations with his patients feel like he’s talking to himself.  This time he’s taking one, Dan (Mike C. Nelson) to his coffee shop because he hates being asked how his day is going every morning. The fact that him and the barista end up bonding over how stupid oat milk is because the barista is similarly pissed off by a majority of his customers is one of the most relatable bits of television in recent memory. Because yes, depression can make you hide behind the “I hate everyone shtick”, and it will just make you more lonely – but that doesn’t mean you still can’t be a bit grumpy about dairy alternatives once in a while. You might make a friend that way.

I will be back next Friday for episode 3. On the off chance you came here first, you can read about episode 1 and why I decided to write about the show here. Oh and watch out for pickle-ball, I hear it’s sweeping the nation, much like baby fish mouth.

P.S. and random sidenote of the week: After seeing the building I stayed in last March on the first episode, it was nice to spot the entrance building of Warner Bros. Studios doubling as a law firm in this one. Apologies for being a colossal nerd, but my day time job actually involves writing on filming locations. Not that “AirBnb in Pasadena” is a particularly cool one, but nobody reads this blog, I can do whatever I want.