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Chicago (And Its Improv Scene) Are Perfectly Imperfect In Second City Vet's Streaming Show 'Shrink'

By Stephen Gossett in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 22, 2017 2:00PM

If David, Tim Baltz’s would-be therapist in the new, Chicago-based comedy series Shrink, had a motto, it would probably be, “He means well…”

Turns out, there’s a lot of rich comedy—and a subtle humanity—lurking in that ellipsis on Shrink. The standout new show—which is also packed with Chicago comedy notables and was filmed and takes place here—debuted last week on Seeso, NBC’s streaming platform. Created by Ted Tremper (The Daily Show) and Second City alumnus Baltz (Veep), the show follows David, a failed medical resident with more than a half-million dollars in debt who’s now living back at home. He’s made the decidedly ill-advised choice to launch a new practice as a therapist, from inside his folks’ garage. Naturally, his complete lack of proper training is never allowed to interfere with a genuine commitment to help people.

"I am required to inform you that I am not a licensed psychologist, psychiatrist or a registered therapist,” he tells patients at seemingly every session, “but that these therapy sessions are being tape recorded to provide a record of the 1,920 supervised clinical therapy hours required to acquire such a license.”

Akin to Chris Elliott in Get a Life but more deluded than psychotic, Baltz’s David oozes Midwestern affability and an indomitable aw-shucks drive. “He’s altruistic but out of his depth, and he’s a fish out of water,” Baltz told Chicagoist. “When he screws up he’s not ruining anyone’s life—at least not in his mind because his intentions are in the right place.” The good intentions half of the equation, at least, is familiar to Baltz. The Joliet native and former touring member of Second City shares a do-good, people-pleaser instinct with his character, he said. It definitely shows up on screen.

Chicago fingerprints are all over Shrink, in fact. The show—which finally found a home on Seeso after a fits-and-starts web-series incarnation about five years ago—doubles as a who’s who of current and former Chicago improv talent. Sue Gillan, Joel Murray (Mad Men) and Claudia Michelle Wallace (Key and Peele) are regulars; and the endless parade of choice cameos includes Peter Kim, TJ Jagadowski, Joey Romaine, John Lutz, Mick Napier, Nancy Friedrich and many, many more.

“It was important for us to get people—because it’s the first season and we couldn’t point to an existing run—who we knew could nail the tone. Plus now with all the film and television production going on in Chicago now, all the theater people know how to go smaller,” Baltz said. “When you’re on stage you have to go big, but in front of a camera, you have to go smaller.”

The scripts were all tightly tailored, but all that improv talent was still wisely allowed room to stretch. About five or six pages of each roughly 30-page script were merely directions to improvise, with the necessary beats, Baltz said. To gauge from Shrink, it might just be the ideal ratio in terms of mining ad-lib smarts without falling prey to dreaded post-Apatow slack.

Despite a prevalence of interiors, Shrink manages to exude Chicago in its setting, too, particularly the Northwest Side. David has a side (read: actual) job at the Happy Foods market in Edgebrook, and several scenes, including those in David’s garage “office,” were filmed in North Park. (Particular credit in capturing the city’s feel goes to cinematographer Chris Teague, who also lensed indie gems like Obvious Child and People Places Things.)

“I saw probably 44 states on tour (as a Second City member), and I’ve lived in LA for the last three years, but Chicago just has its own flavor,” Baltz said. “When you’re outside there’s the architecture. And when you’re inside there’s a certain sensibility to the apartments and spaces. We wanted to reflect that and have Chicago feel like a character on the show—whether we’re Downtown or if it’s just kind of implicitly stated from the style of the interiors.”

The first season of Shrink is available now on Seeso. The first episode, posted below, is also available on YouTube.