Ten years ago, The Shrink Next Door would almost definitely have been made as a zany comedy movie. Emerging now in the long-form TV era as a dense, offbeat and mature adaption of the hit psychological podcast, Apple’s new series gives Ferrell and Rudd the material (and running time) they need to do something much more interesting.
Spanning 30 years in the lives of New York businessman Martin ‘Marty’ Markowitz (Ferrell) and his psychiatrist Isaac ‘Ike’ Herschkopf (Rudd), The Shrink Next Door starts off in the ’80s, introducing Marty as a bit of a loser. Weighed down with the responsibility of running his family fabric business, he struggles with his insecurities and is pushed around by everyone – from his terrifying ex-wife to his dominant older sister (WandaVision‘s Kathryn Hahn).
Reluctantly convinced to see a therapist, Marty meets Ike – who is everything he’s not. Charming, assertive and brimming with brio, Ike turns Marty’s life around in half an hour – filling him with unearned confidence and giving him the self-help shove he didn’t even know he needed. The problem is, Ike isn’t half as nice as he seems. Realising that he’s hooked a big, dumb, rich fish, Ike spends the next three decades slowly taking Marty for everything he has, working his way into his life and business to con his way to a small fortune.
Feeling its podcast roots in the running time, The Shrink Next Door burns slower than most – wallowing in an obsession with small details that probably could have been cut. Director Michael Showalter (The Big Sick) finds it difficult to balance comedy and drama, using weird hair and weirder tank tops in a bid for eccentricity that doesn’t quite come off.
The sudden shifts of dark and light do give the show its unique tone, however, and
Georgia Pritchett (Veep and Succession) does an excellent job adapting Joe Nocera’s podcast, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Rudd and Ferrell aren’t still stuck in their own stereotypes – both excellent here, but both looking oddly out of place in a script that seems to have been written for someone else.
By far the best casting is Marty’s sister Phyllis, played so perfectly by Hahn that her supporting arc (slowly pushed out of Marty’s life, just as her own starts crumbling) becomes the heart and soul of the whole series. Allowed to play her character for drama instead of quirkiness, Hahn’s performance outstrips everything else on screen and proves that a more focused direction could have turned a fascinating real story into something great.
Well-written, awkwardly directed and frustratingly cast, The Shrink Next Door is a bit of an anomaly. Occasionally brilliant but tonally all over the place, it’s the kind of show we need more of, even if it does sort of outstay its welcome.
‘The Shrink Next Door’ streams on Apple TV+ from November 12