True Crime Tuesday: The Shrink Next Door
Helen Archer | On 11, Jan 2022
True crime comedies are few and far between, for fairly obvious reasons – it’s difficult enough getting the balance right when told straight, but when you add humour, there’s an extra element of risk. This eight-part series, based on the 2019 Wondery podcast of the same name, boasts a host of talents, and the comedy pedigree is evident both in front of and behind the camera. It is written by Georgia Pritchett – who has previously worked on Veep, The Thick of It and, most recently, Succession – and directed by Michael Showalter and Jesse Peretz, both of whom have a background in some highly successful comedies for both the small and the big screen. Add to that the comic chops of its stars Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd, along with Kathryn Hahn, and the audience may come with certain expectations. But anyone expecting laugh-out-loud moments may be disappointed – although The Shrink Next Door is a stomach-churning watch, there are few belly-laughs to be found here.
It’s a tough tale to inject much humour into detailing, as it does, the story of the decades-long financial abuse of Marty Markowitz (Farrell), heir to a fabric fortune, by his psychiatrist Dr Isaac “Ike” Herschkopf (Rudd). Ike is initially recommended Marty by his sister Phyllis (Hahn), who despairs of her brother’s anxiety. And yet Ike abuses his position from the outset, eventually managing to con millions out of Marty, moving in to his Hamptons summer retreat in order, initially, to write gumshoe books with titles like “Some Like it Tropical”, which he dictates to his ever-willing patient. Ike’s family takes over the main house, while Marty retreats to the guest quarters, before Ike manipulates him into buying the property next door and cutting down a beloved cherry tree, which his late mother planted years earlier. In New York, meanwhile, he inveigles his way into Marty’s business, throwing his weight around with Marty’s long-standing employees (lovely turns by Cornell Womack and Robin Bartlett), who are loyal to Marty and can only look on in concern and bemusement at the business decisions Ike is pulling the strings of.
Ike arranges party after party – all on Marty’s dime – from an initial do-over Bar Mitzvah, which acts to infantilise Marty, to a hugely expensive charity benefit and constant Gatsby-esque Hamptons gatherings, which Ike puts on in order to satisfy his obsession with rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous – while Marty hides out at the bottom of the garden talking to his beloved Koi fish. But if Gatsby held his parties to hide his pain and his loneliness, it’s less obvious what motivates Ike, other than a superficial idea of success – his many framed photos of himself with celebrities adorn the walls of Marty’s Hamptons house, so much so that it’s impossible to tell that Marty even lives there.
As the months turn to years – 27 in total, before Marty finally cuts the cord with Ike – nothing much changes. Phyllis disappears early and is not seen again until the end, and although the audience is privy to information that Marty is not – such as Ike’s sabotaging of a potential relationship with a sweet picture framer Hannah (Christina Vidal) – Marty remains fairly untroubled with the cuckoo in his nest. Even as Ike gets Marty to act against his sweet nature by treating others in a despicable manner, he is so enraptured by the psychiatrist that he never fully examines his unease at the situation.
And therein lies the problem. For a TV programme so immersed in the relationship between these two men, and the psychological manipulation at play, it is a curiously surface-level script. While both actors play their parts well, perhaps they play it too well. Farrell’s guilelessness is never truly tested, while Paul Rudd is so charming and his enthusiasm for life so infectious that it’s easy to see why Marty would initially fall for him, and his darker sides are barely explored. His wife, too – played by Casey Wilson – is given little to do other than signal that she understands and disapproves of her husband’s parasitical nature, although she is happy enough to benefit from it.
It all leaves the audience with more questions than answers with regards to both men’s psyche, and their relationship with each other as well as with their families and the wider world. Marty’s story is treated with a kind of lightness that belies the seriousness of the financial abuse, family estrangement and psychological manipulation, and the series it is neither funny enough nor complex enough to get to the core of these men or the situation they are in. It all adds up to a curiously unsatisfying, yet excruciatingly painful, experience.
The Shrink Next Door is available on Apple TV+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, with a seven-day free trial. For more information on Apple TV+ and how to get it, click here.