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The Shrink Next Door Takes a Fascinating True Story and Makes it a Slog

Though not without its charms, Apple TV+'s new dramedy takes far too long to get where it's going.
  • Photo: Apple TV+
    Photo: Apple TV+

    From the moment that podcasts became the hot new venue for watercooler storytelling, it was a forgone conclusion that they'd start getting adapted for TV. Some, like the groundbreaking Serial were expanded into televised documentaries. But others — the ones that played like regular installments of a dishy soap opera — were scooped up for dramatized adaptations. The blockbuster true crime podcast Dirty John was turned into a Bravo TV series, and now, from the same podcast studio comes Apple TV+'s new series The Shrink Next Door, an intriguing true tale reported in podcast form by New York Times journalist Joe Nocera. In adapting the ten-part podcast into an eight-episode TV series, though, we start to see how the podcast medium and that of a streaming TV series may not always be so compatible. Where the podcast leads with the fascinating hook of the story, the TV series builds to that hook, sometimes slowly, turning what had been the audio equivalent of a page-turner turned into yet another streaming dramedy (albeit an incredibly well-cast one) that requires some patience before we get to the good stuff.

    The good stuff, as anyone who's listened to the podcast willl tell you, is that one day Nocera was invited to a backyard gathering by the man who he assumed to be the gardener at his neighbor's fancy vacation home. It turned out that the assumed gardener was Marty Markowitz, the home's owner, and that the man Nocera had been assuming owned the place — because that's how he carried himself as he was throwing parties and hobnobbing with famous people — was Ike Herschkopf, Marty's psychiatrist. Naturally, this dynamic fascinated Nocera, and the more he poked into it, the stranger it got, uncovering a years-long history where Herschkopf had taken advantage of Markowitz, ingratiating himself into every aspect of his life, taking over his financial holdings, alienating him from his family, and moving into his home. And it turned out Marty wasn't the only patient he'd taken advantage of.

    In the podcast, this all unfolds with an investigative thrill, peeling back layers en route to the source of it all. On the Apple TV+ series, adapted by Georgia Pritchett (a writer for Veep and Succession) and directed by Michael Showalter (The Big Sick; The Eyes of Tammy Faye), we begin with a flash forward to a Hamptons party where a graying Paul Rudd greets guests and hobnobs with the fame-os (a Real Housewife makes a cameo); that night, a man whose face we don't see starts wrecking the outdoor decor and ominously digging a hole in the backyard. This is meant to be provocative, but it's made mostly redundant after we flash back to the 1980s, where Marty Markowitz (played by Will Ferrell) first encounters Dr. Ike Herschkopf (Rudd). The series proceeds to unfold chronologically from here, an uncomplicated structure that nevertheless forces us to wait a loooong time for things to get truly interesting.

    Because at the beginning, Marty definitely needs to see a shrink. The man is a mess: indecisive, weak, plagued by nervous bowels. He's struggling to run the fabric company that his parents left him, leaning on his sister Phyllis (a fantastic Kathryn Hahn, best in show, as is her wont) to be his backbone. She's the one who suggests he see a psychiatrist in the first place, a suggestion that she'll come to regret, and one that will end up getting thrown back in her face more than a few times.

    Dr. Ike is initially quite helpful to Marty. He helps him stand up to an ex-girlfriend who's been demanding he pay for a vacation to Mexico he promised her when they were dating. He gets Marty to stop blandly protesting that things are fine. He gets him to recognize some unhealthy patterns he's fallen into with his family. He also seems a bit too familiar for a shrink, and doesn't seem to believe in keeping traditional doctor-patient boundaries. He convinces Marty to throw an adult bar mitzvah for himself to exorcise the terrible experience he had at his childhood bar mitvah, which gives Phyllis pause enough to ask around about this shrink. And that's where the sketchiness starts to come in, as Dr. Ike attempts to drive a wedge between Marty and his sister.

    Suddenly, Ike is planting ideas to Marty that his relationship with Phyllis might not be so healthy. That alone would be limited to the realm of poor professional behavior until Ike finds out that Marty is rich. By the third episode, Marty has begun to reveal the extent of his inherited wealth — including jewelry, stocks, bonds, accounts in Zurich, and a swanky house out in the Hamptons. The first time Marty takes Ike to the Hamptons house, Marty is panicked that he's been robbed, and he goes to check on the valuables, but the camera stays on Ike, touring the grounds, his eyes getting wider with avarice at every moment.

    The problem is, we're three episodes into the series and we still haven't gotten to the premise of the show yet. If this were a movie, Dr. Ike's shadiness could build and wrap itself around Marty's life, like the encroaching vines in the opening credits, and by the end of two hours we'd have a full picture of this insidious story. At eight episodes — which are nominally half-hour length but which regularly stretch out to 40 or 50 minutes — the whole thing is a waiting game to get to the fascinating part, where Dr. Ike has taken over Marty's life. For as much as I often find myself complaining about how so many modern TV dramas have decided to tell their stories along multiple timelines, this is a show that could have benifitted from such a structure. In removing Joe Nocera's perspective entirely, The Shrink Next Door is missing that rubbernecking, "how could this have happened?" incredulity, something that might have been mitigated by having two timelines — one in the present (with Ike living high on the hog on Marty's dime) and one in the past, showing how we got there.

    The show's other problem lies with Marty himself. Ferrell does a solid job playing outside of his usual comedic persona, but this character ends up being really hard to root for, even as his life is being encroached upon by the unscrupulous Ike. Marty starts the show as a spineless whiner, and then when Ike starts to encourage him to have some backbone, he becomes kind of insufferable. You don't want to see him lose everything and become subservient to this svengali of his, but after watching how easy it is for Ike to get him to ice out Phyllis, it's hard not to end up resenting Marty.

    There are things to recommend here. Paul Rudd is excellent playing the subtle insidiousness of Dr. Ike. Hahn, as mentioned, is fantastic as the big-haired, constantly perturbed, keenly perceptive Phyllis. And Casey Wilson shows up as Ike's wife. But ultimately, after only a handful of episodes, I started longing to dip back into the podcast so I could cut to the chase already. Life is short. Let's get on with it.

    The first three episodes of The Shrink Next Door premiere on Apple TV+ Friday, November 12th. New episodes drop Fridays through December 17.

    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: The Shrink Next Door, Kathryn Hahn, Paul Rudd, Will Ferrell