On The Shrink Next Door, a tree is never just a tree [Apple TV+ recap]

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The Shrink Next Door recap: You can't help but feel sorry for Will Ferrell's character, Marty. Ike, on the other hand ...
You can't help but feel sorry for Will Ferrell's character, Marty. Ike, on the other hand ...
Photo: Apple TV+

Apple TV+’s true comedy The Shrink Next Door jumps forward to 1990 this week as Ike and Marty take the next step toward their collective doom: They go in on a housing project together. Ike is ready to become one of the beautiful people, something Marty always shied away from despite his massive inherited wealth, and they’re going to do battle over something Marty loves.

The show, which stars Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell, laid the groundwork for a one-sided battle of wills — and now it pushes everything too far. It will be difficult to get excited for another minute of this show after the episode’s conclusion.

The Shrink Next Door recap: ‘The Family Tree’

In the episode, titled “The Family Tree,” it’s 1990, and Dr. Ike (played by Paul Rudd) just lost his father. Ike’s wife, Bonnie (Casey Wilson), brings up Ike’s relationship to his father, a Holocaust survivor whose life was plagued by loss and tragedy. Ike wanted so badly to impress him, and now that chance has been taken from him. Marty (Will Ferrell) invites them and their kids to his house in the Hamptons so Ike can decompress and grieve in private.

However, it doesn’t take long before Ike’s made himself at home and started redecorating in his mind. Marty starts treating the kids like the nieces and nephews he doesn’t see anymore because he froze his sister out of his life.

Meanwhile, Ike repaints and gets rid of all of the evidence that Marty’s family ever lived here at all. He schmoozes with the neighbors, repaints, redesigns the bathroom, and makes Marty type as he dictates his novel. Plus, Ike gets closer every day to tearing up the tree in the backyard that meant the world to Marty;s mother.

Whatever you want

The trouble with a show like this is that its comedic, entertaining impulses keep fighting against its dramatic potential. Every week, The Shrink Next Door introduces something that Ike and Marty will be at loggerheads about. (Last week it was the Pen Gala; this week it’s the Hamptons house.) And by the end, Marty gets steamrolled and refuses to voice his concerns to Ike, each time ironically neglecting the advice Ike always give him in therapy.

It was … let’s say supportable when it was about simpler things. But we’re in episode five of this limited series, and Ike has made Marty cut his family out of his life and destroyed his beloved childhood home.

A brief aside: It’s pretty cowardly to think that the situation with Marty’s girlfriend, Hannah, was never resolved from last week. The show set up Ike callously breaking up with Marty on Hannah’s behalf, and there’s just no way that either party would ever have just let that rest.

Hannah hates Ike and would want to talk to Marty herself. Furthermore, it’s been established that Marty goes to the frame shop where she works once a week. Why he would suddenly abandon both her and the shop? It fatally beggars belief. And it proves this show is too committed to a sitcom format to deal with the possibility that the characters they’ve written don’t conform.

This just isn’t funny

The Shrink Next Door thus serves as a portrait of a monstrous scheming interloper out of Dostoevsky or Harold Pinter engineering the downfall of another man so he can take his place in wealth and privilege. The only problem with that is you’ve cast Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell in these roles. So the show is always going to lean way too hard into comic pathos when it needs to be more subdued.

Rudd, a skilled comedian, cannot make Ike the charismatic figure he needs to be to sell to us the idea that Marty would never once stand up to him. The show also undercuts Ike by painting him as a would-be WASP in absurd polo wear, a figure of loneliness and pitiable striving impulses.

He’s meant to be a figure of fun for the audience, until he isn’t, and the transitions never work. He’s just too annoying and too loathsome a character for it to be fun to laugh at his big shorts or his dancing before then having to sit there as, for the 20th time, he talks Marty out of something he loves.

Neglecting the family tree

By the time he’s telling Marty to cut down his beloved family tree because it represents his overbearing mother’s phallus, there is no element strong enough to make this everyday sadism worth suffering through. The Shrink Next Door tries in vain to make it interesting that Ike is also neglecting to deal with the death of his own father as he’s browbeating Marty about his personal problems (that do not need addressing in these instances). But again, it just makes Ike seem like a child, not the tragic foil of this eight-part series.

Ike has completely ruined this man’s life and sense of self for personal gain. And, yes, this really did happen — but it’s got to be more interesting and less grimly wheedling and predictable. I need a lot more than what this show is giving me to care enough to get to the finish line. Also, every performer here is getting away with murder — everyone but series peripheries Cornell Womack and Robin Bartlett overact up a storm.

My interest in The Shrink Next Door drained out of me before this week’s final confrontation over the tree. By the end credits, I wanted to turn this off and never watch another episode. See you next week!

Watch The Shrink Next Door on Apple TV+

New episodes of The Shrink Next Door arrive Fridays on Apple TV+.

Rated: TV-MA

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.