You can’t top A-list casting like Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell, two hugely likable actors who can clown around with the best of them, teaming up as a psychiatrist and his neediest patient. Sounds like the best buddy comedy ever.
The true story behind The Shrink Next Door, which began as a podcast before being adapted into an entertaining but deeply unsettling dramedy for Apple TV+, depicts a melancholy mensch taken cruel advantage of by a toxic narcissist who sees his client as a rung on his aggressive social-climbing ladder. Now I’ve made it sound like a downer, which thanks to the innate appeal of its stars this is anything but.
It all starts seemingly innocently enough, way back in the early 1980s, when anxious family-business heir and all-around “too nice” guy Marty Markowitz (Ferrell, endearing in his insecurity) is urged by his devoted but hypercritical sister Phyllis (the ever-fabulous Kathryn Hahn) to get therapy after an embarrassing workplace panic attack. Enter Dr. Ike Herschkopf (Rudd, expertly balancing charm and smarm), affable in his pink argyle sweater vest and sneakers as he welcomes Marty into his fern-filled office—”I’m like a cool breeze,” he promises—and proceeds not just to take his vulnerable client under his wing but to take over his life like a reckless tornado.
“I feel like I’m on drugs,” exults Marty when Dr. Ike helps to extricate him from a bad, broken relationship. But like with most addictions, his devotion to his shrink goes dark very quickly. (You’d think he’d notice the overstepping of doctor-patient boundaries when Dr. Ike mooches off of him the first chance he gets.)
“I’m not going to let anyone use you,” pledges Dr. Ike, bolstering Marty’s confidence by suggesting out-of-the-box ideas like an adult bar mitzvah. Then Dr. Ike proceeds to use Marty mercilessly, insinuating himself into Marty’s workplace (for a fee) and taking over his Hamptons home. Worst of all, Dr. Ike convinces the willing stooge, who’s never known a friend like this before, to shut out his real family, including Phyllis and his adored nieces, whom he won’t see again for decades.
Rudd’s boyish charisma is so pervasive he almost makes you believe there’s affection for Marty beneath Dr. Ike’s passive-aggressive manipulations, while we yearn for Marty to wake up and reclaim the shaggy humanity at the core of Ferrell’s wonderful performance. Believe me, it’s worth the wait.
The Shrink Next Door, Series Premiere, Friday, November 12, Apple TV+