If you’ve ever watched Jason Segel on screen — and if you’re a comedy-lover, chances are you have — you know just how no-holds-barred his style of acting is. Though as we found out during a round-table interview with the actor, that’s not just for his characters, it’s the way he lives his life as well.
“I’ve never worn life lightly,” the creative said while answering questions for his latest endeavor, “Shrinking,” which premieres on Apple TV+ Jan. 27.
This new comedy series, which was co-created by Segel and “Ted Lasso‘s” Brett Goldstein and Bill Lawrence, follows him as therapist Jimmy Laird, who breaks the intangible rules of therapy by telling his clients what he really thinks about them and their situations without holding back — and the brutal honesty ends up impacting his own life as much as his patients.
It’s a refreshing exploration into the world of mental health, which for some people has been layered with stigmas and social cues. But as Segel says, his life has been peppered with anxiety and depression, and he has always sought help when it gets to be too much. And his character certainly has to deal with the less savory themes of life with his wife recently dying and his relationship with his daughter virtually coming to a halt while he spirals after the fact.
But, even with these darker themes, as a therapist, Segel’s Jimmy is searching for answers with his patients by having them give life a try, but in a different way. Whether it’s helping someone with anger problems find a healthier avenue of showing their issues through a boxing ring or finally telling a patient to break up with her abusive partner, the line between funny and dramatic is blended beautifully.
“It was one of our big… concerns is not the right word, but one of our big focuses was calibrating tone,” Segel explains. “One, you want to be really respectful that mental health issues are real — this isn’t a satire. There is a real therapist, [and] I’m sure many who are taking this approach [which is] a little unorthodox but trying to facilitate change quicker. Rather than this is going to take you ten years of you talking about your problems to feel any different. But, we also want it to be hilarious.”
And hilarious it is. But that’s not a surprise when it comes to seeing who’s cast beside Segel. “Shrinking” also stars Harrison Ford, Jessica Williams, Christa Miller, Michael Urie, Luke Tennie and Lukita Maxwell.
“It’s a comedy, it’s filled with funny people, and we wanted to use humor to deal with these issues. So, I would say calibrating tone from writing to performing all the way to editing has actually been kind of the main focus,” finishes Segel.
The cast and crew of comedy pros also gives some opportunity for these typical funny actors to dive headfirst into dramatics. Take Miller for example. As Segel says, this role gives her the chance to take on a more serious tone than we’ve seen in the past. In the show, she plays Jimmy’s neighbor who is involved with his life a lot more after his wife passed and he needs help with his daughter (played by Maxwell).
But of course, even with the more poignant scenes between Segel and Miller, there’s also a lot of back and forth, or as Segel called it, “set and spike” between the two that brings out some of the more comedic scenes in the series. As for Harrison Ford, the way he works into this comedic symphony of a cast is through his stoicism. It’s a foil to Segel’s more over-the-top nature, as Ford plays his co-worker and fellow therapist at their practice.
And how did they get Han Solo/Indiana Jones on the cast? Segel has no idea, but he compares him asking Ford to do the show to the feeling of asking the prettiest girl to prom and then freaking out when she (or he in this case) says yes. Luckily, we as audience members get to see the dynamics work out on screen — no awkward prom poses needed.
“Shrinking” provides a lot in terms of relationships. We see Jimmy working with most of the same patients throughout the series, showing it’s not just an easy fix when it comes to mental health. But as he’s working on his own issues constantly, we see the struggle that he has in his own life, especially when it comes to his daughter in the series.
“The most tender experience for me on the show is Jimmy’s relationship with his daughter. You’ve got the beginnings of it now where this father-daughter relationship is completely on its head where she is essentially parenting her father,” explains Segel.
He continued: “I think no one has a super simple relationship with their parents, because as a kid you’re like why are they doing it wrong? You’re really screwed if you’re a parent because you’re damned if you make them take piano lessons or you’re damned because you didn’t get them piano lessons — you really can’t win, and I think watching this guy struggle to try and right end that dynamic to become a good parent to her and a father figure, it was a really special journey for me to go on.”
“Shrinking” achieves the lighthearted escape we need, that only Segel and the “Ted Lasso” creators can concoct. It’s a reality check that comes from the earnestness of the writing and the balance of comedy that comes from this talented cast.
Segel himself phrases it best when relating life to show: He writes from the belief that we’re all having a hard time figuring out what the point of any of this is, and maybe there is some fun in figuring it out together.
Catch “Shrinking” when it premieres on Apple TV+ Jan. 27.