The Apple TV+ series adaptation of the true-crime podcast stars Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd as a hapless patient and his manipulative psychiatrist.

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The Shrink Next Door (TV series)

B-

Marty Markowitz (Will Ferrell) is so unsure of himself he can barely order a sandwich with conviction. Buckling under the stress of running his late father's textile business, Marty literally hides behind a rack of curtains rather than dealing with an angry client. Fed up, his sister Phyllis (Kathryn Hahn) insists that he make an appointment with Dr. Isaac Herschkopf (Paul Rudd), who comes highly recommended by her rabbi. By the end of their unconventional first session, Dr. Ike — an avuncular psychiatrist with a warm smile — makes a promise to Marty. "You let people use you," he says. "I'm not gonna let anyone use you. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever."

Based on the podcast of the same name, The Shrink Next Door (premiering Nov. 12 on Apple TV+) recounts the true-life saga of Ike and Marty's 27-year entanglement, during which the not-so-good doctor broke his promise in every conceivable way. Well-acted and evenly plotted, the 8-episode limited series is nevertheless an exercise in cognitive dissonance. Everything about it — from the cast to the directors (Michael Showalter, Jesse Peretz) to the trailer — says "dark comedy," but Shrink is, at best, a lightly comic tragedy.

Using manipulation, mind games, and precision-guided guilt, Dr. Ike inveigles his way into his patient's business affairs, and even his grand summer home in the Hamptons. Every one of Ike's encroachments is foreshadowed by the cutesy-creepy opening credits, which feature slithering vines overtaking objects representing Marty's existence: A wall of family photos, a picket fence, industrial spools of thread. At first, therapy seems to do Marty some good, as Dr. Ike encourages him to "grab the reins" to his life and stop living in fear of conflict. But it's all in service of a larger plan: Herschkopf operates like a one-man cult, slowly alienating Marty from Phyllis, his loyal employees, and anyone else who suggests that the shrink's methods are suspect.  

Few actors are as reliably charismatic as Paul Rudd, and he's excellent at bringing out the vicious edge lurking beneath Dr. Ike's mensch façade. Ferrell gives a thoughtfully muted performance as Marty. The gentle, self-effacing milquetoast is also a loving, silly uncle, which makes his estrangement from Phyllis and her children even more painful. It's not great for us, either. With her increasingly frantic efforts to free Marty from Ike's spell, Phyllis — played to brash, New York-broad perfection by Hahn — is one of the few characters whose motivations we truly understand. Adaptations of true-crime podcasts face a unique challenge: Unless the creative team opts for full, "inspired by" fiction, their show is limited to the available facts. So often in these stories of human malfeasance, we can never really know why the people involved acted the way they did.

Shrink offers glimpses of what may have been driving its main duo: Marty grew up anxious and coddled; Dr. Ike had a withholding father who said he'd never amount to anything. Still, "something something daddy issues" is a perilously slender thread from which to hang an entire scripted drama, and perhaps that's why the show feels so sterile. Ultimately, this is a story about a bad man who for some reason ruins another person's life, and a sad man who for some reason allows him to get away with it. Grade: B-

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The Shrink Next Door (TV series)

Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd are patient and therapist in this Apple TV+ dark comedy.

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  • TV Show
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  • Apple TV+

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