Martin 'Marty' Markowitz was a success, but with an Ivy League diploma, a law degree, his own business and plenty of money to his name, when he hit 38 he found himself seriously overwhelmed. He had inherited the family business following his parents passing and was having a hard time processing his loss, the breakdown of a relationship and dealing with the new-found responsibilities he had inherited. His Rabi would soon recommend a therapist he knew on the lower east-side of Manhattan called Isaac Herschkopf. A casually dressed, charming young man who was unlike any therapist Markowitz had come across before. Not the kind of therapist to simply listen and have you recite your dreams whilst laid out on the couch, he was proactive in his methods, throwing his arm around his new patient, befriending him and promising to take care of absolutely everything.
Twenty-seven years and $3.2 million later, after changing the locks to his Hampton summer home and reuniting with his estranged sister Phyllis, Marty would knock on the door of his neighbour - a veteran journalist by the name of Joe Nocera. For years Joe had understood Marty to be the caretaker of his successful psychiatrist neighbour Ike only to be confronted with the resulting absurd reality of a truly unconventional doctor-patient relationship taken to its absolute limits.
The Shrink Next Door is a retelling of Nocera’s Wondery podcast of the same name - which would come to exist many years after a failed story pitch at the New York Times - telling the unbelievable story of a gullible fool and an out-and-out evil monster manipulator. Whilst that may not be far from the truth, the big surprise with its on-screen adaptation is the reluctance to go down the route of extreme caricatures, instead giving a more balanced portrayal of both men with Georgia Pritchett (Succession, Veep) offering compassion and understanding in her brutal-yet-brilliant screenplay.
That screenplay reunites Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd for the first time in nearly a decade with both shying away from their go-to on-screen personas and delivering career-best performances in the process. Will Ferrell’s kind, sheepish and unassuming portrayal of Markowitz will bring a tear to your eye, as Paul Rudd’s Isaac 'Ike' Herschkopf encourages you to rage at his constant gaslighting. Both will leave you equally frustrated by their motivations yet intrigued enough to keep watching.
There are laughs amongst the melancholy. The collective horror when both realise that the untreated theatre backdrop they had manufactured could set alight at a moments notice when the cast members enter stage left and right with burning torches is a picture to behold. The puzzled expression on one of Marty’s long-time employees (played by Cornell Womack) when the tried and trusted coffee dispenser is replaced by a fully manual machine. And the utter turmoil etched on the face of Ike's wife Bonnie as she’s told that she’s to deliver twins as her husband points his camcorder at her to film the ongoing labour.
Casey Wilson’s Bonnie adds colour to Ike’s story. A loving wife and mother who questions the ethics of her husband as she tries to make him realise what he provides is enough. Her performance also offers much needed empathy for an isolated Marty, with the two equally trapped in a situation not of their making. Meanwhile, Kathryn Hahn’s portrayal of Marty’s loving sister Phyllis is both hilarious in her matter-of-factness and heartbreaking. She juggles both personal and professional failures as-well as the grief following the loss of her parents and shortly afterwards, the disconnect with her brother.
Tonally speaking, the eight episode limited series begins by offering levity to the early days of the patient-doctor relationship with deliciously dark-humoured direction from Michael Showalter (The Big Sick) and the final four episodes - directed by Jesse Peretz (Our Idiot Brother) - give an early glimpse into the harrowing heights of this true-crime story’s bitter-sweet ending. If there were one critique it would be that each episode varies in its run time which leaves me slightly puzzled given the lack of exploration into important elements of the story including Marty’s loneliness or the impact of Ike’s financial dependency. As harrowing and uncomfortable a watch ‘The Shrink Next Door’ is, that lack of exploration to those elements of the story may have an impact on how audiences react to the many bizarre situations that unfold and that is unfortunate.
Besides that small quibble, the eight episodes herein offer up an expertly crafted modern-day fable exploring what can happen when you are at your most vulnerable. Showcasing empathy and careful consideration for its subjects 'The Shrink Next Door' is sure to ask its audience many questions but I'll answer one. No, Marty Markowitz wasn't stupid - he just confirmed that, despite his success he's just a schmuck like the rest of us.
The first three episodes of 'The Shrink Next Door' premiere on Apple TV+ on November 12th. A new episode premieres every Friday before concluding December 17th.
Apple TV+ is priced at $4.99 per month or $49.99 annually after a free 7-day trial.