Anyone who has ever been to therapy knows that establishing boundaries between a therapist and a patient is of paramount importance. Therapists are not their patients’ friends; they are trained professionals who have an ethical obligation to keep a doctorly distance between themselves and their clients. The Shrink Next Door is a cautionary tale of what happens when a therapist pours a jug of gasoline over their ethical obligations and sets them on fire with a bomb aimed from space.
The Shrink Next Door is based on a podcast of the same name, which told the true story of Marty Markowitz, a wealthy man whose first stab at therapy ended in a lifetime of catastrophe thanks to Doctor Ike Herschkopf, the titular shrink who “treated” Marty for almost thirty years. Over the course of his treatment, Herschkopf isolated Markowitz from his family and friends, exploited him to the tune of three million dollars, and took up residence in Markowitz’s Hamptons house, where he threw lavish parties while Marty acted as a cleaner and handyman. His systematic takeover of Markowitz’s life is a fascinating example of how the human mind can be manipulated. Yet the scope of that fascination is what holds The Shrink Next Door back from being a satisfying show.
The story of The Shrink Next Door is so mind-blowingly strange that it can’t possibly be told in an eight-episode miniseries. The show begins in 1981, when Marty (Will Ferrell) and Ike (Paul Rudd) had their first session. Then, it follows the escalation of Ike’s manipulations over the next twenty-seven years through specific disturbing instances like Ike throwing Marty a grown-up bar mitzvah or moving into the master bedroom of his Hamptons house. The idea is to see how Ike slowly crept his way into Marty’s life, but condensing their story into what amounts to a series of vignettes does Marty’s character and the story a disservice.
Ferrell plays Marty as a well-intentioned but timid man whose anxieties run his life until Doctor Ike takes the reins. His performance of Marty’s anguish and acquiescence is wonderful. But that version of the character becomes cartoonish when the only time Marty is on screen is when he’s being manipulated. Rudd delivers a similarly excellent performance as Ike, which is heightened because the doctor is constantly performing a flat, empty empathy for Marty. But the nuance behind his character should have had more room to breathe as well.
Ultimately, The Shrink Next Door is another Apple TV+ show that would be better binged than delivered week-to-week, but the real improvement would have been to make the show longer by at least four episodes. As it stands, the show presents the fictionalized highlights of Markowitz and Herschkopf’s story in a compelling enough manner to give watchers a decent helping of literal psychological drama, encourage them to seek out the The Shrink Next Door podcast, and frantically google the events to confirm if that’s really how things went down.