LA Shrinks: A brilliant hot mess

Hospitals and veterinary clinics have been par-for-the-course in boundary-breaking reality programming for years, and while no one even flinches at the thought of watching a blood-spluttering, gruesome open heart surgery (or, conversely, the torpid put-down of a real person’s clipped-wing budgie) the psychiatric world is up in arms about Bravo’s brand new reality TV series, LA Shrinks. Little else has become as sacred in today’s politically-correct world as someone’s feelings and critics have slammed the show for giving upper class tinsel town head doctors air time. Many see the show as an uncomfortable step backwards in de-stigmatising public mental health issues.

The show is set to air on Arena, and after watching the first episode – luridly titled “Sexual Healing” – it’s a little difficult to take the show’s criticism seriously. LA Shrinks is made by the same people who brought us Vanderpump Rules, Gallery Girls and The Real Housewives franchise, and the showrunners encourage viewers to “think of it as The Rachel Zoe Project, except sub in therapy and issues for handbags and red and carpets.”

LA Shrink’s premise is “think your life sucks? Just look at your own therapist’s life. Now there’s a hot mess” and points out that the show’s three experts/ main characters “are here to help, but who will help them?” in a slew of sensational, grossly exaggerated episodes that chronicle their “daily lives”. While there are loads of ethical and legal implications in putting together a series which gives you a purported fly-on-the-wall look inside counselling sessions, it’s important to remember that the talent on show is like the scintillating profiling of TV teen mothers and strange addicts – obviously real life is nowhere near as compelling or dazzling.

Controversy aside, the series is pretty great. It has all the aspects an addictive reality show needs – chequered pasts, narrative coherence, brazen confessions and debauched dysfunction – and is a fresh breath of Freudian air in what has become a clinical TV space. In some ways, the show collapses in on itself – the problems of the psychologists’ patients mirror their personal shortcomings a little too closely – but really, what were you expecting? Actual issues? Shows like these are often little more than empty ad space, and LA Shrinks is highly watchable entertainment, if occasionally a little contrived.      

In the first episode, we are introduced to Dr Venus, PhD, who was misdiagnosed with depression and medicated accordingly for twenty years. She is the married mother of four boys, lives in a decadent Hollywood mansion and is an all-round red hot chain-smoking babe. She even appears in various states of undress – in the bath, in a robe – which may be some sort of a metaphor, but I could be over-analysing.

Before you watch, know that Dr V is by far the best character and consistently churns out gems like “no you don’t have narcissistic personality disorder, you’re an arsehole/ No, you don’t have borderline personality disorder, you’re a moody bitch” and “I’m not interested in how one feels, I’m more interested in what they do”, which is interesting because her job is to essentially gratify her patients’ multitude of first world quandaries.

Next up we meet Greg Carson, a “monogamish” openly gay shrink who is set to marry his partner of 23 years. He tells us that as a psychologist, you’re role is “somewhere between a priest and a prostitute” and that “everyone is f—d up in their own personal way.” Carson also reveals secrets that “psychologists don’t want you to know”. Apparently, holding in a fart for the duration of a 50-minute session is one of the trade’s toughest challenges. Dr C also has a PhD which is great for him, because he “knew [he] wanted to be a therapist from when I was a kid.” Most of us dream of being things like fire-fighters or rock stars, but moving along...

The third protagonist is Eris Huemer, who has a PsyD and specializes in relationships. She also has a degree in journalism, interned at the E! Channel in her youth and is mates with Ryan Seacrest (well, she has been on his radio show). You can probably understand why I don’t trust her. Huemer is one half of a sexless marriage and her husband, from what I can gather, is also a therapist, so in my expert opinion, their relationship needs a little less conversation. Snooze, let’s get back to Dr V, thanks!

As Vulture said, “there's maybe no relationship more private and personal than the one between a therapist and his or her patient, so of course it must be made into a reality show”. Though before the moral police wages war on an indisputably brilliant display of other people suffering, let’s all take moment for two drops of rescue remedy, ten deep breaths and some startling self-realisations. TV’s peanut gallery need to recognise that, as a culture, by previously indulging in shows like Jersey Shore and Honey Boo Boo, we have paved way for LA Shrinks' acceptable inception. We are collective enablers, and for those who believe LA Shrinks is problematic, I suggest you take a cold hard look at the on-screen schadenfreude you have previously indulged in, and remind yourself that the first step to healing is admitting you have - or are - the problem.

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