In 2019, the Wondery & Bloomberg podcast “The Shrink Next Door” debuted a wild tale about an unconventionally close relationship between Marty, a mild-mannered man and Ike, his therapist. Straddling the line between pure outrageousness and believability, the entertaining and fascinating true-life story captivated listeners.
Naturally, the powers that be decided it would make good television and, upon viewing the resulting series, it’s clear that was an astute assumption.
Debuting on Apple TV+ in November, The Shrink Next Door explores the nearly three-decade-long relationship between Marty Markowitz (Will Ferrell) and his psychiatrist, Dr. Isaac “Ike” Herschkopf (Paul Rudd). To begin with, business-owner Marty seeks a therapist to help with his issues – crippling anxiety and the burdensome pressure of following in his dearly departed dad’s footsteps – following his sister Phyllis’ (Kathryn Hahn) prodding. What follows is an unusual and unethical friendship that would last from 1982 to 2011. Over the years, Marty would fork over not just millions of dollars, but real estate, a career, and other lavish expenditures to Dr. Ike, whose insidious influence infiltrated every aspect of his patient’s life.
It seems far-fetched that one man could have so much influence over another’s life. How could Marty Markowitz, a 30-year-old man, allow himself to be taken advantage of so easily for so many years? How could the people in his life stand by and watch this happen? That’s precisely what The Shrink Next Door sets out to explore over the course of its eight episodes.
Viewers will see Dr. Ike’s eyes light up with dollar signs when he gets a good look at Marty, whose wealth belies his humble and unassuming nature. But Marty, the awkward and shy man whose problems all seem to stem from his failure of a bar mitzvah, only sees a friend in Dr. Ike. After all, he’s a cool professional with walls lined with photographs of celebs glad-handing with the doctor. What could be so bad about a guy who has a photo of himself with Brooke Shields?
I encourage viewers not to google the real-life story ahead of time and instead, let The Shrink Next Door unfold slowly because it is a story told very well. Then, by all means, go for that deep dive into the real-life people and the timeline recorded by Bloomberg journalist Joe Nocera. Nocera witnessed the events in the series firsthand – the lavish Hamptons parties thrown at the biggest home in the area, with busloads of city elites bussed in for pool parties and barbeques. It was only later that they discovered that Marty, the presumed maintenance man handing him poolside cocktails was, in fact, the home’s owner. Not Dr. Ike, the man ushering the journalist around the stately home decorated with photos of him alongside everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Judge Judy.
The strength of The Shrink Next Door lies not just with the outlandish tale, adapted here by Georgia Pritchett, but with the superb casting of Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd in the lead roles. Given they appear alongside Hahn and Casey Wilson (as Dr. Ike’s long-suffering wife, Bonnie), you’ll be excused for thinking this might be a laugh-out-loud comedy riot. Instead it’s quite the opposite; there is no doubt Marty’s tale is a sad one.
Having Ferrell and Rudd play somewhat against type is key to the series’ success. There are no big scene-stealing moments of comedy for Ferrell. He is, most of the time, diminished and oblivious, having more in common here with his Stranger Than Fiction role than any of his SNL bits. Rudd plays Dr. Ike relatively straight – he’s a “nice guy” who saw his chance at becoming more. He realized he could become one of the wealthy Manhattanites who summer in the Hamptons and took advantage of the person who could get him there. Had Rudd played Dr. Ike as a dastardly scheming villain, the relationship with Marty wouldn’t seem nearly as cruel. But it’s not just the leads who shine here. Hahn and Wilson are so utterly sublime in their supporting roles, you’ll wish they had more screen time.
The Shrink Next Door may lack the urgency of a true-crime binge watch but the story finds unsettling ways to seep in, making it one of this fall’s must-see series.
The Shrink Next Door debuts on AppleTV+ November 12.