For nearly 30 years, Christa Miller has been the epitome of a comedic presence that never misses.
As Kate on “The Drew Carey Show,” she held her own as more than a love interest in the boys’ club cast. On “Scrubs,” she confidently sauntered into every scene as the hilariously venomous Jordan, striking fear in the hearts of the Sacred Heart Hospital denizens.
On “Cougar Town,” she gave audiences Ellie, the fiercely protective rottweiler best friend to Courteney Cox’s Jules. In each project, she served as the consummate comedic aside that could land a hilarious jab only to her turn seconds later and offer something in the vicinity of heart.
Miller says she feels at home in this cadence of comedy, even though it left her hungry for something else.
“‘Scrubs’ was a massive broad comedy for me mainly because my character would come into every scene so ridiculously,” she says. “‘Drew Carey’ was another totally different feeling, and on ‘Cougar Town,’ we just had way too much fun on the set all day. I have done broad comedy and I love doing that. But I’ve always been attracted to the more emotional aspects of comedy, and I really wanted to try something different.”
So she did.
Perhaps more than anything she has ever done before, the role of Liz in Apple TV+’s “Shrinking” utilizes what Miller does best. Liz is the next-door neighbor of therapist Jimmy (Jason Segel), who slips into the role of surrogate mother to his daughter after his wife dies. In exchange for her open arms, Liz offers brutal honesty to those she holds dearest.
The series hails from her husband, Bill Lawrence, who co-created it with Segel and his “Ted Lasso” collaborator Brett Goldstein. Lawrence was also behind “Scrubs” and “Cougar Town.”
But it wasn’t Lawrence who found the right voice for Miller’s next chapter.
It was Goldstein, who wrote a dark script about therapy that included a character named Christa. Lawrence’s own idea around the world of therapy was lighter in tone, Miller says.
“I wanted to do the darker script,” she says, laughing.
Eventually, they melded their visions into “Shrinking,” a project that has a connection to Miller’s own life. Jimmy’s boss in the series, played by Harrison Ford, is loosely based on her psychiatrist Phil Stutz.
It became personal for Miller, who hesitated taking other jobs in fear she wouldn’t be available for “Shrinking” when the time came.
“I just felt so attached to it,” she says. “I didn’t want to do anything that would cause any kind of conflict.”
Even opposite marquee names like Ford and Segel, she stands tall as Liz. Ironically, she’s the steady hand in a world of people who give advice for a living. Where some of her previous roles were marked by the character’s unpredictable behavior, Liz is different.
She still has a signature edge that Miller sharpens and softens at will, but she is also the voice of reason in many of the situations she inserts herself into. Those who take her sage advice just have to remember it often comes with a quip as a chaser.
At a party in “Shrinking’s” sixth episode, Liz offers Ford’s character some tough love about being a parent. She reminds him to be grateful for the chance to build a relationship with his grown daughter. She even proves her own bond with her son by guilting him into calling her just to decline the call.
It’s why comedy keeps calling Miller. To every role, and especially in “Shrinking,” she brings the beautiful tension of someone who will answer the call or just as soon send it to voicemail.