Apple TV+’s newest (true crime) comedy The Shrink Next Door is here to deliver laughter with a side of psychoanalysis. Georgia Pritchett, a writer for Veep and Succession, created this show about the trials and tribulations of a panic attack-stricken New Yorker and the psychiatrist (based on a real guy) who tries to help him out of his troubles.
With Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell leading the cast, the eight-episode series tracks the two Jewish men’s relationship as they weave in and out, sometimes overzealously, of each other’s lives. It’s a period piece set in the 1980s — and the show itself is a little bit of a head case.
The Shrink Next Door review: Season 1 opener
The year is 1982 and Martin Markowitz (played by Ferrell) is having trouble. He broke up with his girlfriend, Deborah (Lindsey Kraft), but she’s still harassing him. His parents died and left him their fabric store — and every one of his regulars seems to think he’s ill-equipped for the responsibility.
His sister Phyllis (Kathryn Hahn) sees Martin having panic attacks every time he has to deal with a problem customer (which is a lot of them) and insists he see someone. He subscribes to a lot of the old stigmas about psychiatry and he also doesn’t want to admit there’s anything wrong with him. But when he has an attack at work in the middle of a transaction, he reluctantly relents. And so it’s off to see Isaac Herschkopf (Rudd).
Ike, as he likes to be called, is an unorthodox shrink to be sure. He hobnobs with rich people, throws lavish parties, plays basketball and is prone to flights of fancy. He senses that Marty doesn’t really to be confined in his office for therapy, so he suggests they go out for a walk. And then, in the middle of explaining his trouble with Debbie, Ike hands Marty a quarter and talks him into calling her on the phone.
The call devolves into Marty sputtering incoherently and having an attack, so Ike calms him down, and then takes him to Debbie’s apartment. Then Ike talks for him, and makes their breakup final, while Marty stands by silently, shocked to hear someone put their foot down. It’s something he’s been pathologically incapable of doing with every relationship in his life.
You’re not gonna pass out
From there, it’s just a matter of solving Marty’s other problems, right? Easier said than done. Marty’s a tough nut to crack. And every time Ike gives him a lesson to learn, he brings it impotently into his every day life. As he slowly starts implementing changes in his life, standing up for himself and grabbing the bull by the horns, he starts alienating Phyllis.
Phyllis wanted her brother to be happy but there is a part of her that needed Marty to be a pushover in order for her to live. He controls their trust, for instance, and when she needs some money (for the nth time) to help pay for a better divorce attorney, he agrees to open it for her until Ike convinces him he needs to set up boundaries. Phyllis responds by robbing Marty’s apartment, which obviously incenses Marty but also proves an important moment in Marty’s relationship with Ike. Ike had no idea until the robbery just how much money Marty’s been hiding.
You know what your problem is? You’re rich.
Georgia Pritchett created The Shrink Next Door and though the show seems to have a case of split personality disorder sometimes, the sharpness of characterization of both people and places can be attributed to her imagination. Pritchett has done time in the writers rooms of some of the best 21st-century TV shows.
Yes, she started technically as a comedy writer whose talents landed her in the short-lived but hugely profitable S Club 7 TV empire, but she graduated to the big leagues like few else before her. A few short years later, she was writing for The Thick of It, Veep, Tracey Ullman, Shaun the Sheep and Succession.
Indeed, The Shrink Next Door at times seems to aim for the rarefied New York that HBO’s hit Succession so deftly presents, if obviously through the lens of nostalgia. Setting the show in the early ’80s means the set dressers, and the actors playing costumers, have more fun — and that the glasses and facial hair are more interesting. The differences between the shows are stark, however, and you’d never mistake them.
If you, for instance, hire Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell, you’re already asking people to make assumptions about the show sight unseen. Rudd and Ferrell (and regular series director Michael Showalter) have been working together for the better part of 20 years. Rudd and Showalter were early collaborators during the heady days of web series and internet comedy videos (right as The Lonely Island was gaining steam). And Rudd and Ferrell were of course in Anchorman together and became fast friends and collaborators.
A question of direction
This is sort of a problem for your more meticulous showrunners. How do you get two guys with unstoppable comedy chemistry to act like two average Jewish guys who don’t know each other? Showalter, I fear, was the wrong man for the job.
He does maybe the best work I’ve ever seen him do with his lenses and lighting kit. (The New York of The Shrink Next Door does share a kinship with the one in Succession in its labyrinthine, grotesque, smoggy, old-world charm and I do want to give him credit for having taken that as seriously as he does getting the occasional gut laugh. He’s a good director of actors and of comedy set pieces, but I haven’t associated him with atmosphere until now.)
However, he can’t, or won’t, for instance, make sure that Ferrell and Rudd keep their dialects going at all times. It’s not exactly destructive to the show’s tone or anything. But the idea that Showalter will keep a moment in because it’s funny even if it betrays the tone does keep The Shrink Next Door from ever firmly planting both feet on the ground. When you factor in that they’re playing spins on real people, it’s a little off that they’re still essentially playing versions of their well-honed comedy personas.
Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd and co-dependency
Indeed, the tricky navigation between being a Rudd/Ferrell comedy and a serious look at co-dependency is what keeps the show both engaging and left of greatness. It’s obviously very funny to watch Rudd and Ferrell notice that the curtains they sold to a production of Jesus Christ Superstar might catch fire at any second as more and more and more open flames make their way onstage. But it isn’t quite in keeping with the idea of a show where a man who has everything and loses it all at the advice of a psychiatrist.
The best version of this mode of storytelling can be found in A Serious Man by the Coen Brothers, and I think it’s about the best goal a piece of media can have. (Look out for Joel Coen’s take on MacBeth this December on Apple TV+, by the way.)
After just the first three episodes, I already like The Shrink Next Door a lot. But I wonder if the team has it in them to fully give into the premise instead of the moment.
Watch The Shrink Next Door on Apple TV+
The first three episodes of The Shrink Next Door premiere November 12 on Apple TV+. New episodes will follow on Fridays.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On The Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.