'The Shrink Next Door' review: Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd shine in wild dramedy
Courtesy of Apple TV+
Inspired by a wild true story that only grows more intense and unsettling the longer it goes, “The Shrink Next Door” chronicles the unethical patient/therapist relationship where Dr. Isaac “Ike” Herschkopf (Paul Rudd) manipulatively weaseled into the life of Martin “Marty” Markowitz (Will Ferrell) and took advantage of him for over three decades. Everything from Marty’s bank accounts, vacation homes, and a family owned and operated business were thrown into chaos under Ike’s humble charm and vicious personality.
Adapted from the podcast of the same name, “The Shrink Next Door” examines how an intelligent, simple minded man of Marty’s stature was able to be infiltrated by Ike and Ferrell and Rudd both ace their parts. Especially the latter who’s boyish charm and good looks-as displayed in “Clueless,” “Ant-Man” and just about any other movie he’s in-makes a pretty convincing case as to who Ike was and how he accomplished what he did. Meanwhile, Ferrell, in a welcome departure from immature comedies, showcases serious dramatic chops while conveying the frail mental state of Marty in a manner that’s not squakish.
Over the entire eight-episode season, “The Shrink Next Door” presents itself as a cautionary tale about who is trustworthy in life. It’s unnerving to witness Ike so preemptively jump on Marty’s insecurities, using gaslighting tactics and therapist lingo to brainwash the guy into cutting ties with his sister (played here by Kathryn Hahn) and creating a charitable foundation for which he can use at his own leisure. Even if you were only vaguely familiar with the disturbing highlights of this true story, “The Shrink Next Door” lays out specifics in a manner that almost made me pop a gasket. Was there seriously nobody that could have helped Marty in the 30-year time span?
But as the series shows, nobody is more readily vulnerable than when sitting down to hash out their feelings with a therapist. From the opening episode, it’s clear Ike has ulterior motives and has pegged Marty as his next cash cow. The devious smirk and friendly affability are a facade the audience is keenly aware of, so watching the doctor work his tricks and get Marty committed to numerous projects under the guise of it’s “helping you” is fascinating. The most egregious comes when Ike convinces Marty to remodel his family vacation home in the Hamptons and throw lavish parties. Mary puts up a fight, but Ike is a wordsmith and spins the narrative in several different directions, to where eventually all he can do is conform.
The duo also share a commonality in their Jewish upbringing and Ike wastes no time yearning for the lavish lifestyle he never had. The situation continues to escalate from there while Ike embraces full on-scam artist mantra, going as far to move his wife, Bonnie (Casey Wilson) and their twin daughters into the Hampton beach house and deplete Marty’s funds to gain popularity in the community. In case you didn’t know by now, the ethical boundaries of a therapist/patient relationship have been thrown out the door.
The script can occasionally be toothless in that you’re never sure whether to laugh or cringe and it takes time getting accustomed to Ferrell’s shockingly restrained performance, but “The Shrink Next Door” keeps things moving through eight episodes with subtle unpredictability. The fact we want to reach into the tube and be the voice of reason for Marty’s situation proves how effective the portrayal comes across. Likewise for Rudd who continually ups the ante as the stakes grow considerably higher. When the two get their moments one-on-one, “The Shrink Next Door” ascends beyond the sum of its cliches. The showrunners could have done a more thorough job explaining the mental state of Marty and the abnormalities of his toxic relationship to Ike, but they get the basic points across in a manner that’s like watching a train collide into oncoming traffic. You want to help, but it’s hard to look away.
The first three episodes of THE SHRINK NEXT DOOR air on Apple TV+ Friday, November 12th with subsequent episodes dropping weekly.