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Apple TV+'s The Shrink Next Door seems more interested in registering shock than presenting a compelling psychiatric drama

  • "The intimacy of psychiatry was made for drama," says Daniel D'Addario. "The most renowned TV series of the modern era was, at first, centered on its antihero’s talk-therapy sessions — exploring both what was troubling Tony Soprano and the ways in which his monstrousness, seen at close range, compelled and seduced the professional trying to help him. The Shrink Next Door, directed by Michael Showalter and Jesse Peretz and written by Georgia Pritchett, reverses the manipulation. On Apple TV Plus’ new limited series (based on the true-crime podcast of the same name), it’s the doctor (Paul Rudd) who’s absent a moral compass, squeezing fealty out of his patient (Will Ferrell). But, leaving unfair comparisons with The Sopranos aside, The Shrink Next Door simply lacks the vibrant give-and-take that its subject matter suggests. Its characters feel unknowable, a problem for a show that concerns the emotional and intellectual tug-of-war in the therapist’s office. The Shrink Next Door loses focus — perhaps because the therapy it depicts is happening constantly. Dr. Ike Herschkopf (Rudd) meets with Marty Markowitz (Ferrell), the CEO of a fabric company, for a mental health tuneup. Soon enough, Herschkopf has convinced Markowitz to cut ties with his family and to grant the doctor unfettered access to his Hamptons home. We see this confidence game play out, with Herschkopf assuring his patient that he’s close to a breakthrough, as long as he grants his doctor just a little more access. In short order, this corporate leader is taking his psychiatrist’s dictation and giving him his master bedroom. For all the outsize theft, The Shrink Next Door feels remote." 


    • The Shrink Next Door is billed as a dark comedy, but mostly it’s just dark, and sad, and fairly repetitive -- leaning too much into Anchorman chemistry: "Both leads have worked in more serious or understated keys before (Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction, for instance, or Rudd as Moe Berg, the title character of The Catcher Was a Spy), and it’s not hard to see this working as a more straightforward psychological thriller about a doctor co-opting his patient’s life so gradually and thoroughly that his victim feels like he’s being done a favor," says Alan Sepinwall. "But Pratchett, Showalter, and company can’t resist hedging their bets and leaning into the Burgundy and Fantana of it all. Rudd, Ferrell, and Hahn all adopt thick (if inconsistently deployed) New York Jewish accents that at times feel better suited to an SNL sketch than a strange but mostly grounded true life story. The second episode has Ike convincing Marty to have another bar mitzvah — as an excuse, of course, for Ike to throw himself the lavish party his family couldn’t afford when he turned 13 — and when the two wind up singing Marty’s torah portion together at the synagogue, it feels like an attempt to recreate the 'Afternoon Delight' singalong from Anchorman."
    • The Shrink Next Door is oddly hypnotic, with Ferrell and Rudd a mesmerizing duo: "The Shrink Next Door (and its source material) is a crushing cautionary tale about the importance of choosing the right therapist," says Saloni Gajjar. "No one is more vulnerable than while in therapy, which is meant to be a safe space to air out feelings, desires, and secrets without being judged. Ike quickly weaponizes his patient’s grief and insecurities. Marty recently lost his parents, his uncle is contesting his ability to run the family textile business, and he’s prone to panic attacks in social situations. Instead of helping him overcome these challenges, Ike amplifies them to become the only person in Marty’s orbit left to trust. Any notions of patient-therapist boundaries are thrown out the window in the first episode. It’s clear that Ike’s congenial smile and attitude is an artful deception. He is far more conniving and selfish than any of his patients realize. The audience is aware from the get-go, so it’s alarming and oddly fascinating to witness the doctor charm his way into Marty’s world; it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion."
    • The Shrink Next Door feels more like an acting exercise than a touching, emotional story: The dark comedy "feels light years' removed from the cartoonishly fun satire of the Anchorman films Rudd and Ferrell have made together," says Eric Deggans. "But it's an effort that also amounts to less than the sum of its ambitious parts; intriguing moments of acting and casting that somehow fail to reveal a surprising or enlightening tale." Deggans adds: "Rudd embodies the predatory therapist as a glad-handing status seeker eager for a shortcut to the trappings of a successful life. For him, the elements of Marty's fragile neediness are like gigantic welcome signs, highlighting someone with wealth who can be easily manipulated, isolated and exploited. It all sounds like a scenario ripe for deeper exploration. Does Dr. Ike always intend to exploit his patient in the way he eventually does, driving a wedge between Marty and his sister, played by Hahn? Why would a reasonably smart guy like Marty spend so long — nearly 30 years — in such an exploitive situation? What about Dr. Ike's other patients or his wife, played with studied exasperation by an underused Casey Wilson? Why didn't they sound an alarm? With eight episodes, The Shrink Next Door has plenty of time to cover this ground. But instead, we get too much energy spent on things we can already predict – like a moment where Dr. Ike talks Marty into spending over $100,000 to create a charitable foundation, complete with a checkbook either one of them can use. Easy to see where that setup is going. But we spend lots of time watching it unfold, anyway."
    • The Shrink Next Door engages in "Jew-signaling": "Psychotherapy and Jewishness are inextricably linked," says Daniel Fienberg, adding: "Linkages, however obvious, can present an opportunity for substantive thought if they’re the product of consideration, but this proves to be just one of many ways that Apple TV+’s The Shrink Next Door falls aggravatingly short. The undeniable rapport between stars Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd carries the show a certain distance, but whether viewers are frustrated by a tonal inconsistency I might generously call 'ambitious,' the inability to use a scripted series format to plumb greater depths than Joe Nocera’s solid Wondery podcast, or the way the series wastes bigger questions of identity on a superficial text of performative Jewishness, it’s hard to remain consistently engaged over eight episodes. Frustration, incidentally, would be baked into The Shrink Next Door even if it felt like all its creative elements were drawn from the same page. It’s a story designed to frustrate you." The problem, says Fienberg, is "The Shrink Next Door doesn’t have much of a perspective on the pros and cons of therapy, and even though Jewishness keeps finding its way to the forefront of the story, be it Ike’s recommendation that Marty recover his masculinity by having a second bar mitzvah or the use of a deli platter for a bris that never happened for laughs, what the storytellers and their stars engage in is more Jew-signaling than the sort of spiritual introspection Judaism strongly endorses. If the show can’t really do justice to Jewishness in general, Jewish masculinity is well outside its reach. The use of Jewishness in the scripts probably isn’t offensive in itself, but when you have a cast anchored by non-Jews — Rudd is the exception — it’s impossible not to think that at some point a conscious decision was made by every actor in the cast to 'play Jewish' in the broadest possible terms. Collectively they embody something closer to Borscht Belt Jewish shtick than actual characters, much less the actual people whose voices can be heard on the podcast sounding nothing at all like the Jackie Mason-adjacent blueprint followed by the ensemble. As best I can explain it, The Shrink Next Door has a vision that might have been realized best with Paul Reiser and Richard Kind in the lead roles, but the series went with a pair of movie stars basically playing Paul Reiser and Richard Kind types."
    • The Shrink Next Door is a dark comedy too polite in its approach to its nasty little story, mixed with a tender drama that’s stretched a few hours beyond its means: "The Shrink Next Door strikes a few chords over eight episodes and holds your interest throughout; it’s easy to invest in Marty’s path to a healthy, happy life, and the series avoids making Ike into a one-note villain," says Ben Travers. "But for a true story built around a master-manipulator, this straight-forward retelling could’ve benefited from a bit more chicanery."
    • The Shrink Next Door is a surprisingly dark psychological dramedy with seriously creepy undertones: "With the names of comedy heavyweights Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd above the title, you’d probably expect Apple TV+’s The Shrink Next Door to be a silly laugh riot. But fair warning: It is not," says Dave Nemetz. "The episode running times are actually a clue: The premiere is just 35 minutes, like a comedy, but later episodes stretch out to the 50-minute range as it ventures further into dramatic territory." Nemetz adds: "It helps that all three stars are superb. Ferrell and Rudd have a strong rapport honed over years working together on comedies like Anchorman, and that carries over here, with both clad in early ’80s eyeglasses and beards. (If nothing else, this show is a comprehensive survey of bad ’80s fashions.) Ferrell is not as goofy as usual, but he does some of his best dramatic work as Marty, with his kind eyes and sweet demeanor earning our sympathy (and pity). Rudd puts his natural charms to devious ends as Ike, showing a surprising menace when his dark side comes out. And as Phyllis, Kathryn Hahn continues her streak of making every TV show she’s in significantly better; just hearing her say 'racquetball' in her ’80s Upper West Side Jewish accent is a treat."
    • The Shrink Next Door is often tonally confused: The Apple TV+ series puts "Rudd and Ferrell in an untenable position where they are tasked with being simultaneously earnest while also winking at the audience, which has a way of putting their performances in air quotes," says Nina Metz. "Actually, everything here feels set off by air quotes, including much of the ‘80s costuming and hair, which tends to come across as something the show is smirking at rather than an organic part of its world-building. How much fun is it to watch a scam artist manipulate someone who is incapable of advocating for himself? The Shrink Next Door hopes your response will be 'a lot of fun because it stars Rudd and Ferrell,' but there’s the issue of just how disturbing the story actually is. There’s a way to thread this needle, I think, with well-known comic actors taking on more dramatically probing roles without losing their sense of the comedic and absurd. Watching the show, my thoughts went to Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me? from 2018, which is another true story of desperation and scam artistry...By contrast, The Shrink Next Door never finds that right mix. Perhaps because it doesn’t seem especially curious about the interiority of its characters — what are Marty’s longings, ultimately? — so much as its focused on portraying the strange and wildly inappropriate connection that grew between these two men, fueled by Ike’s hubris and Marty’s vulnerability."
    • The Shrink Next Door is a riveting look at flawed humanity, companionship, greed and the cost of self-worth:  "Anyone who experiences financial anxiety might find themselves wincing throughout The Shrink Next Door, which dramatizes the toxic relationship between an opportunistic psychologist (the ever-charming Paul Rudd) and his super wealthy patient (a far-too-trusting Will Ferrell)," says Candice Frederick. "Because it is, essentially, an eight-episode look at a nice person getting exploited for every dime he’s worth over the course of a few decades. And yet you can’t peel your eyes away. Much of that is due to the chemistry between the two leads that creates a simultaneously bromantic and terribly deceiving energy on screen. In the Apple TV + series inspired by the true-crime podcast of the same name, Rudd delivers a pitch-perfect performance as the titular psychiatrist named Isaac Herschkopf, who enters Martin’s life at his most vulnerable — grappling with low self-esteem, loneliness and grief."
    • The inconsistency of the Jewish characters is noticeable in comparison to the podcast it's based on: "Another contributing aspect to this underwhelm may be the weight of real and profoundly Jewish characters whose voices are heard throughout the run of the podcast, but who are clunkily interpreted throughout the TV series," says Shayna Maci Warner. "Rudd is the most consistent, if obviously put-on, in his persona and accent; Ferrell’s is barely there when it comes and imperceptible when it goes; and Hahn’s is the thickest and most accurate to the real Phyllis Markowitz when she’s harried, but disappears when she drops into a centered gravitas. The inconsistency is a disappointing, distracting choice when the source material is so grounded in New York’s Modern Orthodox circles, and once again raises the question of why certain gentile actors are so consistently cast in Jewish roles."
    • What’s most maddening about The Shrink Next Door is the packaging: "It’s told over eight 40-minute episodes, when it only has just enough story and ideas for a Sundance-anointed, 100-minute dramedy," says Nick Allen. "The interest of the story gets stretched out, and it becomes so repetitive, while the punchiness of any shoehorned humor is lost in the process (Ferrell sings later on as if a last-minute bid to save advertising). It’s unfathomable, really, that this is something people will tune into each week, as they won’t get a great deal of progression but the same spectacle. It’s an easy binge at the very least, also because its story only slightly focuses on other lives affected by Dr. Ike."
    • Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell's preparations included watching NXIVM documentary The Vow: "You just see how tenuous and fragile we all are, and while this story seems absurd and kind of far-fetched, it really isn’t, and we’re all prone to having a point in our life where we feel vulnerable, for whatever reason, and want to follow someone who’s just going to give us advice that in that moment feels like it’s going to help us," Ferrell says of what he took home from the HBO documentary. "And so it was interesting to compare the two." Rudd adds: "Yeah, our brains are pretty fragile. That’s why you could say, 'Oh, that would never happen to me,' but maybe it would. I just think we’re all susceptible to anything. And watching that show, we did see similarities of certain kinds of personalities."
    • Rudd and Ferrell admitted to a certain anxiety about The Shrink Next Door: They said they were unsure whether viewers would embrace them without the outrageous gags and improvisational one-upmanship that defined their previous work together. “It’s not a cartoon in any way,” Rudd said. “As dark as the story can get — and people were really hurt — there is something so absurd that it’s funny. You can have humor and real drama, simultaneously.” Ferrell added: “There’d be days where we’d start with something lighthearted and then the second half of the day was Paul and I really getting into an intense, emotional scene. To shift in those ways was really challenging.”

    TOPICS: The Shrink Next Door, Apple TV+, Georgia Pritchett, Kathryn Hahn, Michael Showalter, Paul Rudd, Will Ferrell