“Shrink”, An Improvised Web Series by Ted Tremper

shrink2Shrink is the latest web series created by Ted Tremper, winner of both the 2012 New York Television Festival Awards for Best Comedy Pilot and the NYTVF Critic’s Award.

The series stars one of Chicago’s favorite improvisational comedians, Tim Baltz, who plays the hapless “David Tracy”, a semi-failed doctor living in Chicago. The series surrounds David, who conducts his own independent residency in order to reluctantly pursue a career as a clinical therapist – “doctor without the cache” – in order to pay off his student loans, which are well over half-a-million dollars.

David conducts extremely personal tape-recorded interviews with a number of interestingly pathetic characters in an often less-than-professional manner that includes faking a session with his best friend, pushing a childhood acquaintance to give up dirt on his ex, and even using that proverbial therapist couch for something more than just talking.

Along with Baltz, the series also puts on display some of Chicago’s finest improvisers who play opposite Baltz as David’s “patients”, including Colleen Doyle and Jason Shotts (perhaps better known as the improv super-couple, “Dummy”), local improv legend TJ Jagodowski, who is one half of the preeminent improv duo, “TJ and Dave”, Annoyance Theater founder and Second City director, Mick Napier, SNL’s Aidy Bryant, Greg Hollimon (who you may recognize from the Comedy Central comedy, Strangers with Candy), and many, many other popular and well accomplished Chicago players.

Shrink is a fitting follow-up to Tremper’s previous web series, “Break-ups“, another improvised web series he created that deals with the horrible and often hilarious situations that can arise when couples break up . His resourcefulness as a creator/director/editor shines through with a remarkably simple setting, sneaky-clever transitions, and purposefully placed props. (I defy anyone to try and squeeze as much comedic juice out of an old, severely outdated Panasonic tape recorder or from a somehow depressing half-empty jar of more-than-likely unsalted Planters peanuts that inhabits each scene.)

Ted TremperThis series uses the issue of hard-to-come-by funding that all amateur series run into as a positive, capitalizing on a minimalist approach that definitely pays dividends and gives the series a distinct feel and style. Much of the series takes place in an abandoned looking garage that really speaks volumes about our protagonist and his sad set of circumstances. With details like this, Tremper goes all out with nuance and subtly –and nails it.

What is without a doubt the most enjoyable little detail about Shrink is the fact that for once, we’re able to watch Chicago improvisers on screen doing what they do best: improvising in Chicago – rather than acting in Los Angeles, or writing in New York. It’s a trend that hopefully catches on and helps transform improvisation in the eyes of the public from something more than just ‘that thing actors do before they get famous’ and into a real and honest appreciation of this singular art form that we in Chicago hold so dear, and would love to share with them.

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