Apple TV+’s “Shrinking” offers strong acting and funny dialogue, but it’s symptomatic of so much of what’s wrong in our culture.
The show is essentially the worst elements of social justice ideology rolled into one TV season.
First, “Shrinking” leans hard into moral relativism. Characters do terrible things without any understanding, either on their or the show’s part, that their actions might be bad.
As one example, the main character (Jason Segel’s Jimmy) is a therapist who, in the first episode, takes on a patient with a violent history.
Sean (Luke Tennie) landed himself in court-ordered therapy because he has a history of beating people within an inch of their lives. But it’s all good. Within the space of one episode and maybe a week’s time, Jimmy invites Sean (now homeless due to more violence) home to live with him and his teenage daughter.
This is cast as somehow a good thing, rather than, say, as a parent recklessly endangering his daughter by bringing home a violent felon whom he’s known for a total of a few days.
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It’s not just Jimmy; the other characters also lack prudence and morals. At one point one of the characters, a mother of two teenage boys, casually texts her oldest son to tell him that, “I’m sad and blue, and if you don’t call me I’ll be so, so mad.”
Her son immediately calls, and she declines the call in order to prove a point to another character. Both the text and the declined call are manipulative and emotional blackmail, but of course the show doesn’t consider them as such.
“Baller move,” congratulations the character she’s talking to.
Second, the show has a consistent undertone of race essentialism. Gaby, a black therapist played by Jessica Williams, constantly references the skin color of her white colleagues as though that’s the most salient thing about them.
Midway through the show, one of those colleagues, a gifted therapist named Paul (Harrison Ford) who’s nearing retirement, asks Gaby if she ever wanted him to be her mentor. No, she says immediately; “I would choose somebody who looked like me.”
It’s true that people from similar backgrounds can sometimes better empathize with each other, but do we really want a world in which a person’s skin color is considered the most salient feature when it comes to whether or not to ask them to be your mentor?
For the show (and some lawyers in the real world) the answer seems to be yes.
This obsession with race can take “Shrinking” into some weird places. One of Jimmy’s therapy interventions is to encourage Sean to take an MMA class in order to exercise his aggression in a healthier way.
Gaby is aghast.
“You forced a young black man to fight a bunch of people in this cultural atmosphere?” she demands. It’s true that black Americans might get in more trouble with the law than white Americans for fighting outside, but has Gaby really never heard of an MMA gym?
Implying that black men shouldn’t feel safe going to a gym is more than a little absurd. Of course, none of the characters points this out to her.
Finally, almost every character suffers from a complete lack of emotional resilience. The show unfolds like a conservative caricature of a college campus, with adult-looking people who have never learned basic emotional regulation. Jimmy gets in screaming matches with half of the other characters.
His excuse? He’s had a bad day.
To his credit, Jimmy does apologize each time; but after the third or fourth tantrum, one’s left to wonder if this middle-aged therapist ever developed the ability to have a bad day without spewing his anger on everyone around him.
It’s not just Jimmy. When Paul offers Gaby an olive branch for not always prioritizing her, she unloads on him. She then storms out, saying, “I don’t even trust myself with you for another second.” This is, frankly, teenage-level behavior.
If the mere presence of a colleague can make her lose control of her words and actions in his presence, then one is left to wonder: does she have any ability at all to navigate the gap between emotion and action?
Does she have any idea that said gap even exists in emotionally healthy individuals, or that a key component of mental health is being able to experience a stimuli without flying off the handle?
Like the college students videotaped screaming over an email about Halloween costumes, she needs to develop the emotional fortitude to navigate life’s ups and downs.
Of course, no one in the show ever calls out Gaby’s thin skin (or Jimmy’s), which gets to the core problem with ‘Shrinking.” Lots of great shows tell the story of immoral individuals. But what makes these shows work is that they know what kind of story they’re telling.
No one thinks Walter White is a hero, least of all the “Breaking Bad” show-runners.
The problem with “Shrinking” is that it’s a show about people owned by their vices who make poor and often immoral choices, but the vices are framed as virtues and the immorality as nobility. The show embodies the worst vices of the postmodern Left, including the tendency to reframe these vices as the grand and necessary next stage in our cultural evolution.
Julian Adorney is a writer and marketing consultant with the Foundation for Economic Education. His articles have appeared in Playboy, National Review and The Federalist.