Venus Nicolino in a scene from Bravo's "L.A. Shrinks." (Bravo )
"LA Shrinks" debuts Monday on Bravo, which may be broadly described as a network on which people who really do not need the money star in reality programs.
It focuses on three therapists, hopping from one to the other -- they don’t interact -- and following each in and out of the office. In contrast to the house style, the principals are relatively likable and well adjusted, though not without their challenges. For the space of the opening episode, at least, none of them scream.
-- Dr. Venus Nicolino, who lives and works in a big, marbled Bel-Air mansion, with a husband and four kids, two their own and two nephews under "permanent guardianship" (reason unstated).
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-- Dr. Greg Cason, who was inspired as a child by "The Bob Newhart Show" to become a psychologist. He’s in a "monagamish" relationship with his partner of 23 years; they’re getting married, which raises the question of whether to invite his homophobic father to the ceremony. (If this weren’t a reality show, that question would be more easily answered.) Of his work he says, "You’re somewhere between a priest and a prostitute" (because you’re paid by the hour).
-- Eris Huemer, a relationship specialist who wants to start a family with her husband, even as their sex life has stalled -- you are meant to note the ironic failure of her expertise. They have a dog, though.
All are good-looking and personable, and, though it takes going outside the series to know it, have previous experience in "the media." Huemer, who has made appearances on Ryan Seacrest’s radio show, even has a degree in broadcast journalism.
Most active of all is Nicolino, a sometime CNN commentator who has more than 46,000 Twitter and nearly 78,000 Facebook followers for her posted aphorisms ("We often over complicate when trying to simplify," "We often create what we prepare for"). Indeed, she seems to be auditioning here for a show of her own, speaking straight to the camera in a confidential voice, all glossy lips and artfully cascading blond hair.
At work, the talk is largely about sex; the first words we hear a client speak, to Nicolino, are about penis size. Another woman tells Huemer, "I need to be touched six to eight times a day," a statement striking both for its specificity and its room for variation. Cason’s patient Elizabeth has anger issues, mainly -- she is the designated screamer in Episode 1 -- but sex does come into it.
It can seem unseemly at times, but television has teemed for ages with analysts and the analyzed. I am old enough both to have remembered and forgotten Dr. Joyce Brothers and Dr. Ruth Westheimer, though we were never treated, as here, to the sight of them in a bathtub or their underwear, or pointing a kitchen knife at a husband who is pointing one back. ("It feels Freudian," says Huemer to mate Clayton Winans, who does not look happy on camera. "It’s psychopathic," he ripostes.)
As practiced mostly across the reaches of basic cable, reality television is a degraded realization of an exalted idea -- that people are interesting just being themselves. The people who make these programs, however, have little faith in that idea. And since almost everything that happens on camera here, outside the therapy sessions, feels uncomfortably contrived -- the therapy just seems edited for effect -- I look to the corners to find the people behind the characters: in the bric-a-brac of their living spaces, old snapshots never meant to be on TV, the odd passing moment where self-presentation is overtaken by self-revelation.
Others, of course, come for the contrivance.
When: 10 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14-DLS (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and sex)
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