The vibes have been good in Shrinking lately, haven’t they? This show doesn’t shy away from dealing with heavy topics, especially surrounding grief, but with only one episode to go, everything feels a bit light and nice. Barring another dramatic fall or delayed comeuppance for Jimmy — something I honestly don’t expect to see — he should manage to pull through and deliver an inspirational wedding speech for Brian and Charlie. With more resolution in this episode in Paul, Gaby, and Sean’s stories, it’s even more unclear what real conflict next week could offer.
I don’t entirely mean that as a criticism; these last few episodes have been enjoyable, with some particularly solid moments of pathos in this one. It’s just that with all the progress every character seems to be making, there’s a slight lack of stakes.
That’s not to say it isn’t gratifying to watch these characters grow. Jimmy is doing much better than he was early in this season in every way possible. He’s managed to reconnect to his daughter on an emotional level while also earning her respect. His unconventional therapy methods, which began as a futile and selfish distraction from his own grief, actually seem to be working for his patients. His friendships with Brian and Paul are strong, he’s developing a fulfilling friends-with-benefits relationship with Gaby, and most centrally, he’s grieving his late wife in a healthy way.
There’s a little too much telling instead of showing here, with various characters explicitly discussing how well Jimmy is doing, but the details really sing. First, we see Jimmy flipping through a book of his memories with Tia: photographs and ticket stubs from over the years, cutting off abruptly on the page corresponding to the year she died. Jason Segel’s tearful delivery of “That’s all we get” is deeply moving, but he’s more wistful than devastated in this moment. He has no problem moving on to sort through more of Tia’s old things.
Of course, Jimmy is still fragile enough to break down crying before he can rehearse more than one word of his wedding speech, which he’s back to delivering at Brian’s wedding. Still, while Brian may be justified in his anxieties about reinstating Jimmy, this latest breakdown feels like a small blip in an otherwise impressive emotional journey over the course of this season. We see, in this episode, a Jimmy who’s more comfortable feeling his feelings — and doing it in a private, subtle way, taking some time to himself and letting it all wash over him during a visit to Tia’s grave for her birthday. He even takes off his wedding ring, a huge step.
It somehow didn’t occur to me until the final scene of the aptly titled “Moving Forward” that despite the abundant presence of Alice in the episode, she’d utterly forgotten Tia’s birthday. She’s been too busy helping Sean get Liz to invest in his catering business so he doesn’t have to scan documents for his dad anymore. In short, she’s been living her life — the exact thing she should be doing. If anything, it’s a good sign that Alice is distracted enough by life things for this important day to slip her mind. In some ways, Jimmy may be proud of her for forgetting, even if it’s completely understandable that the realization would devastate her.
This final scene is a highlight of the season, especially how it goes down at the conclusion of a peaceful, comforting episode. We spend several beats with Jimmy and Alice sharing one of their classic listening parties, with Alice lying at the end of the bed and dancing along to the song she’s showing her dad. We can sense what Jimmy’s thinking: He knows that Alice forgot, and he doesn’t want to disrupt the moment, but she should probably know. When a glance at her calendar finally reminds Alice, she says, “We forgot Mom’s birthday.” But it turns out it was just her, which is a thousand times worse in her mind.
It’s an effective reminder of how grief can overwhelm us at unexpected and illogical moments. Missing one birthday for Tia doesn’t make any real difference, and Alice can celebrate her mom’s memory with Jimmy every day. But it’s similar to realizing you can no longer call to mind someone’s voice or smile. It’s the guilt of feeling yourself moving on and letting go a little — the same guilt that made Alice feel skittish about posting herself having fun on social media earlier this season. It’s easy to worry that you’re disrespecting someone you lost when you can’t directly communicate how much you still think about them.
These emotionally complex moments are the best part of Shrinking, and they’ve made Paul’s story line one of the most satisfying. On Jimmy’s advice, Paul invites Meg and her family to join him in Las Vegas over the weekend for the ceremony where he’ll receive a career achievement award. Not only is it impossible — Mason has a school play that day — but the invitation immediately backfires, becoming just another example of Paul prioritizing work over everything else. Jimmy is right that this latest failure shouldn’t stop Paul from putting his heart out there with either his daughter or his new flame, Julie. Paul likes to think Julie is “safe dick,” but the truth is he really likes her, as difficult as it is for him to gush about it to Gaby.
Jimmy’s advice to make a big gesture pays off when Julie agrees to accompany Paul out of town for the weekend, but the episode’s most satisfying (if predictable) twist is their destination: not the ceremony, but Mason’s play. It’s hard not to be moved by Meg tearing up and clenching Paul’s hand, overcome by him choosing family over work. Maybe he isn’t prepared to move across the country just yet, but he can be there when it counts.
Another satisfying (if predictable) twist: Gaby and Jimmy hooking up again when it seemed like she might fall for Nico’s charms again. But it’s a relief that she doesn’t backslide; I’m not sure I’m fully onboard with Jimmy and Gaby as a genuine romantic item yet, but this dynamic works for them. More importantly, her Nico encounter pushes her to think about the dreams she missed out on when taking care of him sucked up so much of her time. Her desire to apply for a professorship earns some side-eye from her anti-academia mentor, but this is Gaby taking control of her life and doing something she cares about: helping pave the way for more therapists who look like her.
Gaby is one of the many characters in Shrinking who have made great strides in this first season, and sometimes it all feels a little too easy and pat, with not enough serious bumps along the way. “Moving Forward” is the penultimate episode of this debut season, but it barely feels like it; there isn’t really a sense of momentum heading into next week’s finale, or any clue of what season two could look like outside of more hangout-sitcom antics. Still, it’s hard to quibble too much when the show is able to churn out poignant, low-key stories as it has been for most of the season. In that sense, “Moving Forward” signifies more good things to come.
• The very sad moment when Brian’s dad, who otherwise seems to be making a real effort and warming to Charlie, says no to being Brian’s best man. Unfortunately, his tolerance still has its limits.
• Harrison Ford’s sarcastic delivery of the week: “No prouder moment for a therapist than when his patient pays him rent.”
• Gaby’s usage of “greases my peach” is a solid callback to three episodes ago.
• “My dad’s already asked if all gay couples kiss at the end or if some bump fists.”
• Jimmy takes a patient named Steven to scatter his mom’s ashes at the Rose Bowl, which gets interrupted by security, though they get away fine. I expect Jimmy’s breaking of the rules to be addressed in some form in the finale, even though the show has largely moved away from the therapy practice.
• I can’t quite track Liz’s thoughts about Sean’s business during the scene of Gaby and Alice talking her into investing. Where does her reluctance stem from, and what has changed by the end of the scene?
• I get why Liz can feel smothered by Derek, but his funny invitation for her to join him to get the mail is pretty cute.
• The latest cameo from a Bill Lawrence series alum is Scrubs’ Neil Flynn, who plays a longtime patient of Paul’s. From their casual dynamic, you get a sense of how their 22 years of knowing each other has allowed them to develop a real friendship — and a healthier one than the type Jimmy cultivates with his patients.