Contraction is, in my opinion, the Fourth New series in recent years to center therapy and therapists. It is, in fact, the second such a project will arrive on the Apple TV+ streaming service, after 2021 The narrowing next door. (The shared platform makes near-identical names all the more confusing.) But while trending pieces write each other, Contraction is gaining more interest for her connection to another much more beloved Apple show: Ted Lassothe football sitcom that won the tech titan back-to-back Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series.
Two of ContractionThe co-creators of are intimately involved in the Ted Lasso phenomenon. The show is the latest product of an eye-popping global agreement between Warner Bros. Television, the studio that produces Ted Lasso, and Bill Lawrence, who co-directed the first two seasons with Jason Sudeikis before stepping back to focus on other endeavors. (Lawrence also created a adaptation to come by Carl Hiaasen bad monkey headlined by Vince Vaughn.) Joining Lawrence is Brett Goldstein, the British comedian best known for playing foul-mouthed footballer Roy Kent. Here he stays behind the camera, helping to create the story of a Pasadena therapist in existential crisis.
Jason Segel plays said therapist, a character who bears a striking resemblance on the page to a certain Kansas trainer. Jimmy Laird is a man disoriented by the recent end of his marriage. (Ted moves to London to give his wife space after they split; Jimmy’s wife died in a car accident a year before the events of the show.) To cope, he channels his energy into disrupting his profession and the lives of his colleagues. (Ted changes sports, a even stupid turned smash hit; Jimmy decides to drop the act and tell his clients what he really thinks about their problems.) More generally, he is an affable middle-aged brother whose goofy charm belies his inability to connect with his loved ones, including his only child. (And more precisely, Ted Lassois clean Second Season depended on the main character seeking professional help for some panic attacks.)
More than an effort to tap into the dramatic depths of clinical psychology, Contraction reads like an attempt to go back Ted Lasso playbook. Instead of a coaching staff, Jimmy has fellow therapists: Gaby (Jessica Williams), who was Jimmy’s late wife’s best friend, and Paul (Harrison Ford), his boss and mentor. And instead of players, Jimmy has patients: the woman he bluntly tells to leave her horrible husband; the obsessive-compulsive who invites him into his house without shoes and without dust; the veteran with anger issues that Jimmy lets crash in his backyard. Most therapists preach the virtues of boundaries, but as Jimmy adjusts to life as a widower, he seems to think they’re more trouble than they’re worth.
But at the same time Contraction may look like Ted Lasso remotely, it’s not as effective in practice, therapeutic or otherwise. To be clear, Contraction not only falls short of one of television’s great success stories; even in isolation, the show is a disjointed jumble with a deeply flawed premise. Still, there’s a reason Apple is staying in business with Goldstein and Lawrence. The hope is that they will continue to tap into the zeitgeist. Instead, they put on a show whose family resemblance is largely superficial.
Ted Lasso is a classic fish-out-of-water scenario, drawing its comedy from the contrast between Ted’s aggressive American optimism and his cynical British counterparts. In theory, Jimmy should create a similar gap by laying down the ground rules of therapy. Except Jimmy’s co-workers seem to barely blink at antics that could jeopardize his livelihood and, presumably, theirs. When Jimmy shows up with a black eye from a patient’s pissed off spouse or collects rent from a client – a financial arrangement riddled with conflicts of interest at best and legal risk at worst – they react usually with a slight puzzlement, a jaded attitude. Contraction seems to share. To quote another recent therapeutic show, some of the same tactics The narrowing next door used as red flags are recast here as adorable oddities. When Paul Rudd’s Dr. Ike takes a session on the road, it’s the first time he’s inserted his advice where it doesn’t belong. When Jimmy blocks a patient’s appointment to give him feedback, it’s a cute cold open.
Gaby and Paul may not object much to Jimmy’s rule-breaking as they aren’t really committed to the rules themselves. Gaby is largely a vehicle for Williams’ ironic charisma – still endearing, though it’s been put to better use in the past. (The comedian-turned-actress was excellent in Season 2 of Love life; meanwhile, her season-ending romance on Contraction has a lot less chemistry and a lot more perspective.) Paul is more of a problem. Ford, a “sensitive man would repeatedly prefer violate air traffic control than going to therapy,” is less believable as a man paid to connect others with their feelings. It’s part of the joke, of course, and part of a “doctor, heal yourself” subplot in which Paul struggles to be open about his Parkinson’s diagnosis with his daughter Meg (Lily Rabe). ). But together, Paul and Gaby add to the impression that Jimmy is just another maverick therapist, not one whose methods are particularly unhealthy.
Contraction has no obligation to accurately portray the day-to-day realities of mental health care. (No one wants to watch hours of hassle with insurance, though couple therapy is about as gradually grabbing.) He has to craft a compelling story though, and not cultivating a potential source of tension proves a major hurdle. The same goes for the confused and confusing tone. Shedding light on Jimmy’s stunts might work if Contraction were a simple sitcom. Instead, it’s a comedy-drama about heartbreak. Ted Lasso waited until its second season, when it had established characters and relationships, to inject weight. Contraction takes too much at once.
This dispersed concentration weighs on the whole. Jimmy’s next-door neighbor Liz (Christa Miller, who is married to Lawrence in real life) has spent the last year acting as a surrogate parent for her teenage daughter Alice (Lukita Maxwell), who is left alone to cry while her father tried to agree. Within a few episodes, however, this weird and interesting dynamic was flattened into standard nosy housewife tropes, like Catherine Hahn in Wanda Vision, but largely played directly. Brian (Michael Urie) is supposed to be Jimmy’s best friend, but we never accept a suburban dad spending so much time with a gay lawyer. Major story beats, like Gaby’s impending divorce, are dropped out of nowhere, belying the occasional hit of emotional realism.
But the person who suffers the most from Contractioncontradictions is Jimmy himself. It’s a weird thing to say about a project that Segel is credited with as co-creator and co-writer, but Contraction proves to be an imperfect vessel for his talents. (This isn’t Segel’s first self-proclaimed star vehicle. The actor previously created Shipments from Elsewhere, a whimsical mystery that had the misfortune to air in March 2020.) Segel skews big and slapstick in his performance style: snorting cocaine amid meltdown; crashing a bike while screaming sobbing at Phoebe Bridgers. But when the script calls for a more subtle emotion, it can’t reduce it. One episode ends with Alice confessing to an inappropriate crush, which Jimmy overhears. His exaggerated “I’m appalled” face overdoes it where a simple worried look might suffice.
Over the nine episodes screened for critics, Contraction tries several shapes and chooses none. It’s not quite a grounded story of long-term loss, or a tongue-in-cheek prank about a therapist gone mad. Sweet but not sweet is a difficult balance for a comedy; even Lawrence and Goldstein’s latest project has struggle in this regard. Contraction targets our heartstrings and funny bones and ends up hitting neither.