The Shrink Next Door
- Creator: Georgia Pritchett
- Starring: Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Casey Wilson, Kathryn Hahn
This post originally appeared on ObsessiveViewer.com
Almost any time somebody proclaims “I’m doing this for you,” it means they’re trying to swindle you in one way or another. The line isn’t uttered excessively throughout The Shrink Next Door, Apple TV+’s new limited series, but it may as well be the show’s tagline. The show – based on the podcast of the same name from Wondry and Bloomberg Media, itself based on true events – chronicles almost 30 years of manipulation and greed, all under the guise of self-help. Sounds like the set-up to a Scorsese drama, doesn’t it?
Paul Rudd stars as Dr. Ike Herschkopf and Will Ferrell stars as Marty Markowitz; the former a well-respected New York psychiatrist and the latter the reeling head of a drapery business which he inherited after his father’s recent death. The show marks the third time that Rudd and Ferrell have worked together after Anchorman and its misbegotten sequel, yet Shrink is far from the zany comedic stylings of those films. And yet, the actors’ familiarity with each other is one of the show’s greatest strengths throughout its eight episodes. Both Ferrell and Rudd give some of the best performances of their careers. Rudd in particular manages to find some semblance of humanity underneath a slimy huckster, and it’s a twisted delight to see the depths he’ll go to for self-preservation.
When the series begins in the early 80’s, Marty turns to Dr. Ike to help get his life on track. He’s single, his employees walk all over him – including his sister Phyllis (Kathryn Hahn) who’s perpetually late to work – and he’s still grieving the loss of his father. To Ike’s credit, his advice initially works, and Marty begins to assert himself in his business and personal life. It’s not long before the two see more and more of each other, and Ike begins to involve himself more and more extensively into Marty’s life. Marty scores a big contract at work; they start a charitable foundation together; Marty tries his hand at dating. The show certainly takes its time getting into the meat of the story, but once we begin to see Ike’s game unfolding, it’s a car crash of deeply human proportions.
Because, much like any cult leader throughout American history, Ike’s main priority is to shield himself from any and all scrutiny, and Rudd plays Ike’s desperation to perfection. The show also mines stellar supporting performances from Casey Wilson as Bonnie, Ike’s exasperated wife, and Hahn, who’s the first to see through Ike’s mind games. It’s a credit to the show that, whenever Wilson is on-screen, I found myself sympathizing for her more than Marty. Because whereas Marty only sees Ike for limited periods of time; Bonnie is stuck with him for life.
If there’s any downfall from the series, it’s that showrunner Georgia Pritchett doesn’t explore Marty’s interior life to the same extent as Ike. Outside of the setup in the first episode or two, Marty’s reasons for hanging onto Ike’s every word aren’t investigated beyond a craving for his approval. It’s fun to see Ferrell and Rudd play their dramatic sides, but the show also makes room for darkly humorous bits. One episode sees the pair at the Broadway premiere of Jesus Christ Superstar after Marty supplies the production with a stage curtain. I won’t spoil the specifics of the episode, but it provides a fantastic piece of long-form comedic setup and payoff.
The first scene in the first episode shows an aged Marty destroying (what we presume to be) Ike’s luxurious home, before flashing back to the very beginning. As fun as it is to see the downward slope of Marty’s life, Pritchett – and series directors Michael Showalter and Jesse Peretz – were smart to include this bit of foreshadowing. We’re sucked in to the mysterious pull of enigmatic figures like Charles Manson or Jim Jones or The Bakker’s. But we want to believe even more that the people they ensnare in their schemes, like Marty, are able to make it out before it’s too late.