Shrinking S1E2 Recap: A “Fortress of Solitude” But No Superman

Brian gestures with his hands while wearing a suit, with Jimmy and Sean seated to each side of him, in Shrinking S1E2
Apple TV+/Screenshot

The following recap contains spoilers for Shrinking S1E2, “Fortress of Solitude” (written by Jason Segel & Brett Goldstein & Bill Lawrence and directed by Ry Russo-Young).

To be honest, Episode 2 of Shrinking has me a little worried. In Episode 1 I was taken by the show’s emotional honesty while I lamented the tone of some of its humor—particularly the running joke about Gabby’s water. Indeed, I didn’t see the need to mention that in writing on S1E1, as it felt like we were dealing with small gags in the margins that kept the show from feeling too heavy.

But in “Fortress of Solitude” that tone kind of takes over, and Shrinking begins to feel like a different show than I thought (and hoped) it would be.

Paul and Gabby sit at a table
Apple TV+/Screenshot

This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the episode. The humor works, for the most part. It just doesn’t feel real, with minimal exceptions. Everything is a little too quippy, and the introduction of Brian (Michael Urie) really brings that home. As much as I enjoy Michael Urie’s performance, which manages to bring Brian to life immediately and make us care about him just as quickly, there is a kind of tonal shift in the show in Episode 2 that his behavior exemplifies.

Brian interrupts a session Jimmy is having with a client, for example, which is really not OK, but Shrinking plays the moment entirely for humor, implicitly asking us to be OK with it through our suspension of disbelief.

This is fine, because this is a TV show, but it threatens the emotional honesty of the series when so many moments feel untruthful. Add Jimmy (Jason Segel) lying to Paul (Harrison Ford) about a robbery at a donut shop, and the whole exchange between Gabby (Jessica Williams) and Liz (Christa Miller) in the latter’s driveway, and we’ve entered into the pseudo-reality of TV where such things play instead of grappling with the complex dynamics of lived experience.

And that’s OK. Maybe Shrinking knows what it’s doing or wants to be something other than what I hoped it would be. Quibbles aside, “Fortress of Solitude” manages to hit some poignant notes and carries forward the theme of the series. We see Alice (Lukita Maxwell) struggling to relate with her peers, and Paul’s sternness cracked in his relationship with her. And Jimmy’s admission to Brian that he’s avoided him precisely because he’s such a ray of sunshine lands, along with the best joke of the episode: “I never said everything goes your way.”

Brian laughs as Jimmy has his hands in front of his face
Apple TV+/Screenshot

Meanwhile, Brian helps Sean get out of trouble with the law, but it doesn’t stop his folks from kicking him out of the house for fear of his influence on (who I take to be) his younger brother. Jimmy reconnects with Brian at the expense of having dinner with Alice, who then returns from Paul’s to find Sean in their kitchen.

The drama feels a little contrived, or at least mined from poor communication when Shrinking has the potential to derive drama from truthfulness instead, but I don’t want to be too hard on S1E2. Second episodes are tough because you have to create forward movement whereas the pilot just has to set the stage, and we don’t really know the characters well enough yet to feel their motivations without signposting.

Alice and Paul sit in his living room watching TV
Apple TV+/Screenshot

Perhaps this is the gist of my lament about Episode 2, such as it is: too much signposting and too much telegraphing of how we’re supposed to feel in place of the work to make us feel that way naturally.

It’s still a solid episode of TV, and I’m intrigued to see where Shrinking goes from here. Maybe it will still realize a lot of the potential I saw in Episode 1. Or maybe it will just be kind of fun and heartwarming, and that’s OK too.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

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