Review: Shrinking 1×03 – “Fifteen Minutes”

On the off chance you have ended up here for the first time, here are my recaps of episode 1 and episode 2.

This week’s cold open is someone’s horrible Tinder date, an all-too familiar scenario for any millennial. Turns out the guy bragging about being “the COO of the bedroom” is one of Jimmy’s patients, Alan (Asif Ali) – and he intervenes as soon as his date flees to the restroom, begging him to just be himself instead of the faux businessman persona he’s projecting. It is a secret dream of mine to simply take men I have dated straight to therapy, so the resolve is satisfying to watch, and not unlike when Keeley on Ted Lasso takes Jamie straight to Dr. Sharon when he is whining to her. As we learn later, the date actually turns out well as soon as Alan blurts out that he “cried four times today” and drops the toxic masculine behavior he was exhibiting before – as already noted last week, dismantling ideas of toxic masculinity is definitely as high on the agenda for Shrinking as it was for Ted Lasso.

Another immediate highlight of the episode is almost everyone coming to rebuff the racist neighbor, Karen, errr Pam, when she confronts Sean outside Jimmy and Alice’s home. Derek driving up and remarking “eat a dick, Pam” is comedy gold, and as someone on Twitter suspected, Derek may actually just be a stand-in for Bill Lawrence (Christa Miller’s real-life husband) – something Lawrence immediately confirmed. It makes sense for a show that feels so personal to each of its creators, and it’s really fun to see these allusions, just like Brian’s mantra that featured so prominently in episode 2. Miller herself mostly gets to do comic relief this week, as she continues to momma bear Alice, causing a ripple effect that leads to a heartfelt thank you between Paul and Jimmy, but also an as of yet unresolved conflict.

Meanwhile, Alice oscillates between emotions: guilt over feeling happiness despite her Mom’s death, being easily angered, and just not being “a great hang right now”. I spent 50 minutes in group therapy this week just listing symptoms of depression, and all of these came up. Lukita Maxwell’s performance on the show is easily overlooked in-between all the big names on the cast, but she shines again this episode. Her dynamic with Harrison Ford feels particularly effortless, but the flirty chemistry Liz notes for her and Luke Tennie’s Sean is equally obvious. Speaking of chemistry, I am sure I can’t be the only one who spotted a potential love interest for Ford’s Paul in the physician, Dr. Baram (a stunning Wendie Malick) who treats his Parkinson’s. It would be genuinely nice to see an older age romance on TV again, especially in a post- Grace & Frankie world, so I hope this will turn into a larger plot line.

“Come on, kiddo, you don’t get to dictate how other people grieve.”

The overall narrative thread this week is Paul’s method of scheduling 15 minute windows of grief. It hits home for someone who liked to schedule every aspect of her life and now has burnout, and his immediate switch to picking up his phone definitely felt more like it was played for laughs and that this might not work as well as he hopes. Or at least like he isn’t fully processing yet what he is going through, as we also see in his struggle to accept that his illness is starting to impact his daily life; he bumps into Gaby’s new car trying to park. The fact that he finally agrees to carpool with her instead of driving himself even after – gleefully – passing his motor skills test again is however oddly reassuring. After years of watching dramas go for the most shocking outcome every time it is refreshing to see this storyline conclude without Paul getting into a serious accident.  “I want to go out on my own terms”, he tells Gaby.

Both Jimmy and Alice also try the 15-minute grief window Paul prescribes them,  both with similar results, albeit setting very different emotional beats in the episode. Alice violently crying alone in her room with Jimmy coming home to find her is heartbreaking, but it also leads to their first, cautious, dinner together. Jimmy tries it on his bike ride home and ends up sobbing and crashing into someone opening their car door, which is probably the funniest scene this episode – “Fuck you, Phoebe Bridgers” should become an instant meme. To me, the fact that the same method leads to different outcomes felt like an important take away from all this, probably because it’s also something I had several conversations about this week. Not everything works for everyone. “All people are differently people”, as one of my favorite fictional football coaches once said.

“Grief’s a crafty little fucker, sneaks up on you.”

Another case of unexpected grief is that the always bubbly Gaby is going through a divorce; a fact she has kept from Jimmy, and the audience thus far. We sense friction with her husband, but perhaps nothing as drastic, as she adorably jams to Nine Days’ “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” on her ride to work. (Apparently a song personally picked by actress Jessica Williams). While she is elated that the divorce is now official, and initially invites Jimmy and Brian over for a party, she ends up struggling. We learn that her now ex-husband is a sober alcoholic, but that his addiction is something that has defined their marriage, and she is now worried that their breakup might make him spiral again. “So there’s an easy solution for that, you just put your own joy aside and stay with him forever, “ Jimmy tells her, and frankly, oof. Anyone who has ever been in a codependent relationship will have probably made a similar noise while watching this scene. This week’s episode is penned by Brian Gallivan and this is easily its strongest moment, including the reveal of just how close Gaby and Tia (Jimmy’s wife) were before she passed. And by the way, yes, women do talk about our partners’ dicks with our close friends, it is not just a Sex and the City-myth.

The episode ends with Jimmy discovering that his patient Grace, who we thought left her abusive husband and moved to Vancouver, is actually back in LA and with him. Upon my second watch I noticed she’s already there the first time Jimmy runs into her husband while hiking, so it’s clear she is lying to him during their session. It’s a big blow, but also once again shows the ups and downs of working through things in therapy. Jimmy’s new more confrontational style yields results, but it is ultimately up to every one of his patients to solve their own issues.

To wrap this up for the week: The good people over at Marvelous Geeks already started a round of asking what everyone’s go to 15-minute grief song is, so I will end by saying there are too many to count, but I can always destroy myself with Billy Joel’s “Vienna” any day. Which I am ironically typing from Vienna, Austria – day clinic means I have weekends off and this is also why this recap has been delayed by a day. Looking forward to hearing everyone else’s songs, and see you next Friday.