The first three episodes of The Shrink Next Door premiere Friday, Nov. 12, followed by one new episode weekly, every Friday thereafter through Dec. 17.
The trailer for Apple TV+’s The Shrink Next Door sells this limited series as a tense, darkly comedic thriller about the three-decade-long predatory relationship that psychiatrist Dr. Isaac “Ike” Herschkopf (Paul Rudd) inflicts upon Martin “Marty” Markowitz (Will Ferrell). Based on the true story of the real men featured in the hit 2019 Wondery podcast of the same name, the series is a prime example of where less would have been more. It loses steam by its fourth hour and plods towards a climax that ends up less than satisfying. Somewhere in all this excess is a potentially sharp two-hour movie with some teeth.
In the original podcast, Ike and Marty’s story is framed from the point of view of a journalist neighbor who stumbled on their odd dynamic and went on to unravel their co-dependent relationship as an outsider looking in. The series excises that narrative structure and lets us marinate as an insider, observing the slow-moving car crash that Marty’s life becomes as he relinquishes more and more of his major decisions over to Ike, his best friend, psychiatrist, and eventual business partner from hell.
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The first three episodes of The Shrink Next Door are the tightest and most entertaining of the series. This is mostly because of Kathryn Hahn’s presence as Marty’s protective but flawed younger sister, Phyllis. We’re introduced to them in 1982 in the wake of their parents’ demise. They inherit their father’s New York City-based fabric company and as Marty tries to run it, Phyllis determines that his extremely passive and anxiety-prone personality is sandbagging his happiness. She strongly encourages him to see a psychiatrist recommended by her rabbi. Initially, Marty wants no part in it, but he eventually agrees and slowly comes to bond with “Ike” Herschkopf’s very personal, boundary-compromising style.
Rudd and Ferrell have an infinitely watchable chemistry together, and the first three hours give them an array of lightly comedic scenarios for Ike to help Marty navigate successfully, empowering mousy Marty for the first time in his life. But the dynamic soon changes once Ike comes to learn how unexpectedly wealthy Marty is, including a summer home in the Hamptons. A social climber with an insatiable appetite for the finer things in life that he can’t afford, Ike gets Marty to start a foundation with him. With Marty financing the majority of the trust, Ike goads him into attending socialite events to hobnob with celebs and eventually make the Hamptons house party central during the summer months. All of it is done under the guise of making Marty step outside of his shell, be more assertive, and cut toxic people, like his concerned sister and their loyal employees, out of his life.
For anyone who’s had a narcissist manipulate their life, Ike will look painfully familiar. We’re given a tiny bit of context into why he is the way he is, but gratefully, the series doesn’t allow his struggles to become a sympathy crutch for Ike’s awful behavior over the 27 years he leeches off Marty’s goodwill, gratitude, and bank account. Meanwhile, the universally beloved Rudd gets to prove handily through Ike that he can play a convincing, conniving a**hole. He’s relentless in his ability to passive aggressively coerce everyone in his life, from his eternally acquiescing wife, Bonnie (Casey Wilson), to his other clients, to do his bidding because of his eternally sunny attitude. But Marty is his masterwork, the raw clay to Ike’s ongoing experiment in isolating weak-willed people into giving up their friends and family to his sole countenance.
As for Ferrell, he can still play pathetic like a pro as he manages to make Marty, the sympathetic sucker, kinda fun to watch in the early episodes. But by the time Ike has run every person of importance out of Marty’s life, a heavy case of compassion fatigue sets in. And as the overall narrative takes shortcuts by bulk jumping through the years, it’s harder and harder to feel bad for Marty. As Ike’s control over Marty gets more and more ridiculous, I dare you to not yell at him through the screen. It’s not funny, or fun, to watch a grown man be so used without regard ad nauseam. It’s only when Hahn shows up again very late in the story that the show perks back to life. Ever the voice of truth and reason, Phyllis is really the only source of welcome catharsis when she finally says what we’ve all been thinking.
In the end, only one hour of The Shrink Next Door is given to any kind of climatic growth or self-actualization for Marty, which makes for a very tepid conclusion. Ike remains an unrepentant jerk and because of it, Marty’s lost the majority of his prime years to a manipulator. All in all, it’s a real laugh a minute (not really).