19.8 C
Saturday, June 10, 2023
HomeEntertainmentTim Baltz Finds Comedy Analyzing Struggles From His (Finally) 'Shrink' Broadcast Show

Tim Baltz Finds Comedy Analyzing Struggles From His (Finally) ‘Shrink’ Broadcast Show


There’s a salty-sweet show now airing about a grieving therapist who ignores the ethics of his profession, becomes intimately involved in his patients’ lives, and seeks advice from an older mentor who tells him it’s not his job to guide others. patients in making better decisions.

It’s called “Shrink” and was made in 2017 for NBC’s now-defunct streaming service Seeso, which went under that same year. After going from one platform to another and at times being completely orphaned, all eight episodes of the sitcom are now available to watch on Peacock.

When “Shrink” came out, Times critic Robert Lloyd said he has “heart, without getting sentimental. … I, at least, came out feeling good”.

The intro above sounds remarkably similar to “Shrinking,” a similarly named series on Apple TV+ that premiered in January with a very similar premise. On that show, Jason Segel plays the therapist, spiraling after the death of his wife, inviting a patient to live in his rooming house and turning to Harrison Ford’s older therapist for wisdom. It’s the brainchild of Segel and the team behind beloved Emmy juggernaut “Ted Lasso.”

The people who made “Shrink” are much less famous and made much less money. But comedian Tim Baltz, the creator and star of it, doesn’t want to complain, he’s just grateful that his little comedian baby, who took six years to conceive, is back in the world.

“Making a show, any show, is incredibly difficult,” says Baltz, who currently plays milquetoast BJ on HBO’s “The Righteous Gemstones.” “So I look back on those circumstances and I’m a little surprised that it happened, given all the experience I’ve had since.”

Baltz, 42, plays an assortment of Midwestern hicks on the improv comedy podcast “Comedy Bang! Pop!” – as Randy Snutz, an amalgamation of guys he grew up with in remote Chicago suburbs. But behind the cheeseheads he’s so good at portraying is the brains of an incredibly thoughtful man who speaks fluent French. fluency; her mother is native and her aunt is a nun in Paris.

“Growing up between two cultures makes you hyper-observant as a defense mechanism,” says Baltz, “and makes many cultural traditions seem arbitrary.”

She was on her way to earning a PhD in French literature, but lost her 50-page thesis paper during final exam week when “the universe stepped in and crashed my computer,” she laughs. “I was like, ‘Well, I’ll do improv for a year.'”

Baltz was already enamored with improv comedy, taking the train to Chicago since he was 13 and seeing the likes of Jack McBrayer, Stephnie Weir and Seth Meyers on the Second City stage.

“Everyone was playing to the best of their intelligence, and it felt like comedy and poetry had stood up,” he says. “I was mesmerized by it.”

He played Shakespeare as a teenager and did college theater, and was captivated by the uniquely theatrical yet emotional flavor of Chicago improv. He took classes at the iO Theater and toured with Second City.

“Shrink” was the organic fruit of it all.

Baltz and his co-creator, Ted Tremper, were inspired by the not-so-comic situation of medical school grads who don’t get a teaching hospital, and how one way to defer paying off huge student loans and keep your license is by offering free therapy.

Tremper had access to a garage, and they asked their hilarious friends, including future “Saturday Night Live” star Aidy Bryant, to improvise as patients for Baltz’s hapless therapist. He cast Second City’s “mother hen”, Sue Gillan, as his character’s mentor and one of his teachers, Claudia Wallace, as a hostile receptionist. They filmed 12 therapy sessions over a few months with borrowed digital cameras for a total cost of around $200.

Baltz uploaded the episodes to Vimeo, where it became a staff pick, then built and submitted a pilot to the 2012 New York Television Festival, where it won best comedy pilot and critics award. Jean Doumanian, the former “SNL” producer and longtime producer for Woody Allen, bought it, and Baltz and Tremper moved to Los Angeles in 2013 to pitch the show to the networks.

“TV was at this interesting point,” says Baltz. “The mumblecore wave had reached its peak, and many of those self-made indie techniques were being applied to television for the first time. And we were just at the beginning of that. There was the promise that you could do very good television on an independent budget and without the kind of glitz and glamour.”

They met with FX and AMC, but another upstart cable channel, Pivot, offered them a full season and, better yet, agreed to let them leave blank pages to improvise.

Tim Baltz, left, and TJ Jagodowski in a scene from “Shrink.”


“New things were coming up, and they were taking off, and you didn’t know which one was going to stay,” says Baltz. “So we said, ‘Wow, are you going to order a 10-episode season? That is incredible!'”

Branded a network for millennials, Pivot was the home of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “HitRecord on TV” and the only place to broadcast “Friday Night Lights.” It was led by Evan Shapiro, former president of IFC. But the channel faltered, and “Shrink” was stuck in development hell for more than two years.

When Shapiro moved to NBCUniversal, he dreamed up a new comedy streaming service: the ill-fated Seeso. In addition to housing the entire library of classics like “SNL” and “Monty Python,” Seeso incubated outlandish original ideas from a hungry group of young talent that coincided with the Upright Citizens Brigade and “Comedy Bang! Bang!”

Baltz was a guest on “Bajillion Dollar Property$,” a real estate reality spoof that featured other “CBB” regulars such as Drew Tarver and Paul F. Tompkins. In retrospect, Baltz says, Seeso was “this very quaint experiment targeting middle-class budgets to give younger, up-and-coming creators a chance to make something without the pressures you’d normally face on a network.”

“Shrink” finally got the green light at Seeso, and Baltz quickly whipped up eight scripts in eight weeks, budgeting for just one additional writer and less than $600,000 per episode. They filmed in Chicago with most of the returning artists from the original web series, but “our location budget was small enough that we thought one of the characters worked at a bank and they said, ‘We can’t have access to a bank. .’ We were going to shoot at Wrigley Field at one point, and they said, ‘Yeah… we’re not going to do that.’”

Baltz now laughs at this “really special fuzzy experience” as a creative blessing: “Money buys time, and time buys the ability to solve problems the way you want. When you have less time because of less money, then your problem solving needs to be really creative and fast. That was a very rewarding challenge, because we overcame it. I wouldn’t really change anything about it.”

The series starts off as something of an office sitcom, filled with montages of impromptu therapy sessions, but gradually becomes more romantic and more surreal, with bizarre dream sequences and a very dark twist.

Seeso gave Baltz near-total creative freedom and ordered a second season.

“Unfortunately,” he says, “while we were waiting for the budget increase to pass, a couple of weeks to a month before we would have started a writers room, we found out that NBC was pulling the plug on the entire platform. Bittersweet, if only because we knew where the characters were going and how the world would evolve.”

The show’s arduous life-and-death cycle was prescient of the new TV order, where streaming services sprout like wildflowers and many die on the vine, where shows are abruptly canceled or shelved or even removed entirely from their original platforms. , and where indie talent is often overlooked for the big celebs.

“Who knows if we were in more turbulent times, who knows where we’re headed,” Baltz says, “but in this weird way, our show is a little microcosm of all these different things that have happened and will continue to happen. I learned almost every possible Hollywood lesson from this little show. He is determined to continue teaching me. And I’m very grateful for all of those things, because that’s the reality of the business.”


Where: Peacock

When: Whenever

Classification: TV-MA (may not be suitable for children under 17 years of age)

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

Latest stories