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The Shrink Next Door review – a fascinating story never quite adds up

November 12, 2021

This The Shrink Next Door review is spoiler-free.

I think it’s fair to say that right now it’s the most open and understanding world on mental health issues ever. So now is probably a good time for a TV show about a predatory shrink who has been manipulating a vulnerable client for decades. The Shrink Next Door is based on the Wondery podcast and its reporting, but filtered through an original filter made for television that can’t keep control over the intended tone and leans too heavily on the on-screen characters of its stars, Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell. It’s a deeply terrifying tale of manipulation and abuse that plays out like a comedy, sometimes when it doesn’t mean, but not so funny when it tries to be.

The overall effect is eerie, as if the show was created as an experiment to see what happens to audiences when every creative decision goes slightly wrong. You can’t deny the Rudd and Ferrell connection, but you can and will wonder how it’s used and what we’re supposed to feel about them as they go through 27 years of bizarre co-addiction that begins with a overbilling and turns into a long, comprehensive scam that pushes the boundaries of credibility.

Marty Markowitz (Ferrell) is a exhausted fabric salesman, totally dependent on his sister Phyllis (Kathryn Hahn) following the death of his parents and his legacy of their business. It’s an “easy brand” for everyone, including Ike Herschkopf (Rudd), recommended by therapist Phyllis. Ike thinks he’s a town man and has various selfish aspirations that he thinks Marty can help him with, even if it’s inadvertent. Neither Phyllis nor Ike’s own wife Bonnie (Casey Wilson) are really excited about the relationship, but once Ike has his hooks it’s nearly impossible to break free.

Everything in this setup that you would expect to see unzipped is mostly ignored or at least superficially recognized. You would expect more soul-searching in a therapy story, but you won’t find it; the hook is less on how Marty was able to fall for it all, and more on Ike’s logistics getting out of it. There is a cruel streak at the heart of a man’s need for help and the belief that he was receiving it by being exploited, but The Shrink Next Door treats the flaw, not Marty’s interiority, as the center of interest. There is not much for or against therapy as a practice, and its relationship to faith is not treated as more than an excuse for archaic, performative Jewishness to help set up certain jokes or premises. Even the essential underlying concept of addiction is not emphasized.

A big part of that is because we have two stars playing the lead roles. The story would have been better told without them. It’s hard not to look at Rudd and see, say, Ant-Man, or look at Ferrell and see the bewildered man-child he’s basically still playing. The show’s creative team are obviously aware of this, as they play it all the time, often not realizing that it damages the story. You can’t imagine Marty as a real person because he’s treated like a caricature of Ferrell, the kind of stunted jerk who would be easily exploited by someone who spoke even half the speed of the silver-tongued salesman of Rudd. The chemistry is there comically, but the double-act patter is not suited to the material. There’s too much self-awareness and awkwardness here, so when the show seeks resonance or even seriousness, it rarely does.

There are a lot performance and interesting decisions made in The Shrink Next Dooralmost none of which work, but practically all of them are fun to think about, even if it’s only in the way you might think of, say, a crime scene. The show isn’t that bad; it is not disastrous or laughable. But it’s curious in a way that doesn’t usually work to its advantage, and it’s a show about a trusted man that’s, understandably, rarely convincing.

You can stream The Shrink Next Door exclusively on Apple TV +.

The Shrink Next Door review – a compelling story that never quite adds up first appeared on Ready Steady Cut.