To many people, the unknowns of therapy are scarier than murderous clowns or masked serial killers. Allowing another person in — really in — to the deepest, darkest reaches of one’s mind can be a daunting prospect at best. And in Apple TV+’s new miniseries, The Shrink Next Door, many of these fears come true for one Martin “Marty” Markowitz.
Based on a true story, The Shrink Next Door was originally a podcast collaboration from Wondery and Bloomberg Media. Over ten episodes, journalist Joe Nocera detailed the story of how Marty Markowitz was manipulated both financially and emotionally by his psychiatrist, Dr. Isaac Herschkopf, for almost three decades. The podcast’s title comes from the fact that Nocera was Herschkopf’s neighbor in the Hamptons during this period, but oddly this fact never comes up in the series. That’s just a little fun fact for y’all podcast noobs before we dive in.
The Apple TV+ series delves into the bizarre material in true sadcom fashion. Starring Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd, the show plays off the comedic strengths of the leads while also calling upon their primo acting chops. Ferrell has historically been drastically underrated as a serious actor (watch Everything Must Go and thank me later), and his role as Marty, a nice guy plagued with a crippling case of anxiety, gives him some fantastic moments to shine without having to constantly tickle our collective funny bones.
Rudd’s off-the-charts charisma is also put to excellent use as Dr. Isaac “Ike” Herschkopf. Ike is just a nightmare of a therapist, but as portrayed by the ever-charismatic Rudd, we can see precisely why Marty and others may have been roped into his web of lies and deceit. I mean, we’d all do pretty much anything for Paul Rudd if he asked, amirite?
As a therapist myself, I’m always super-intrigued about how fictional narratives treat the therapeutic relationship. So, for the next eight episodes, I’ll be breaking down all of Ferrell and Rudd’s antics and then inviting you all to come play armchair therapist with me in the progress notes at the end of each of our sessions. No co-pays apply.
But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
The meat of the episode opens in 2010, but let’s hit pause on this timeline for now. Instead, let’s talk about our goddess and savior, Kathryn Hahn. Hahn plays Marty’s sister, Phyllis Markowitz, and she is a fucking force of nature. As always, ofc, but it’s really fun here to watch her play off of Ferrell in a sibling context. We meet her in the 1982 timeline, and she’s repeatedly encouraging her brother to seek therapy.
You see, Marty and Phyllis’s dad recently passed away, and Marty has taken over the family’s multimillion-dollar fabric company. But the dude is 38 and suffering a full-on midlife crisis.
As Marty struggles to keep the business afloat in the wake of his father’s death, he’s simultaneously suffering from a case of debilitating anxiety and indecision. He finds that he can’t stand up to pushy customers, so much so that he literally hides behind a heavy curtain like “a grown man smooshed against the wall.” So when his sister urges him once more to see Dr. Herschkopf, he does.
Marty and Ike meet. It’s truly fun to see Ferrell and Rudd’s respective energies bounce off one another, and it’s so hard to believe that, before The Shrink Next Door, they’ve only shared screen time in the Anchorman movies. (Hahn was also in those movies, making The Shrink Next Door an Anchorman reunion of sorts, but somehow this time there’s even more facial hair and crazy wigs.)
Ike sits at his desk, keen to meet his new patient and get things going. He’s an energy chameleon, and his goal in this session is to PUMP Marty UP. Dr. Ike is probably one of the first true villains that Paul Rudd has ever played, but in this first episode we see him as a human, specifically as a human trying to help another human, even if he’s doing it in a terribly flawed fashion. Throughout Marty’s “session,” the good doctor truly seems to be excited by the fact that he’s helping his patient overcome obstacles and better his life.
Marty settles into Ike’s office but doesn’t move to take off his coat or his hat. He’s not invested, and Ike can see this. So he suggests that they try something different. Why don’t they just shoot the breeze? Furthermore, why don’t they go on a walk outside while they chat? Propelled by manic charisma, Ike careens around the New York City streets with Marty as his tagalong. He hops into a pickup basketball game only to run right back out onto the sidewalk and steer Marty toward a payphone. The phone call goes terribly, prompting Marty to have a panic attack, but then Ike steers him into a local frame shop.
But then something curious happens, as Marty makes a suggestion for the matting on one of Ike’s frames that he’s picking up, and both Ike and the frame-shop guy compliment him on his good eye. Marty beams, but then Ike breaks the spell because he can’t find his wallet. Of course, sweet, responsible Marty offers to pay cash for the session on the spot, and the awkward negotiation here is truly a comic delight. Somehow, Marty ends up paying for another hour of “therapy,” and Ike decides that they’re going to “take care of that Mexico business” once and for all.
Marty’s ex, Deborah (the great Lindsey Kraft), is appalled when Marty plus one arrives on her doorstep. She immediately assumes that Ike is a lawyer, and neither he nor Marty move to correct her. But then, Ike shuts all of Deborah’s Mexico Madness down, and Marty experiences a great catharsis. Here, Marty finally gets the support he needs to get out of his comfort zone and stand up for himself. “This meeting has been documented!” Ike declares, with Marty following up with a sassy, “’Tis been documented, so.” Then the two of them race out of there like giddy caffeinated schoolchildren.
Once they come down from their shared natural high, Ike offers Marty a spot in his schedule, saying he thinks he can help him. He says, “I’m not going to let anyone use you. Not today. Not now. Not ever.” As they part ways, Ike spots some hideous cow statues in the window of a nearby gallery and says, “I’m going to buy those one day.” CUT TO …
Remember when I said we’d circle back to 2010? Here we are! At the top of the episode, Ike is depicted circulating at a party in the Hamptons. He calls over a guy in a nondescript green shirt to take a photo of him and Lisa Rinna and then orders him to clean up some towels. Later that night, the green-shirt guy goes berserk. He vandalizes the aftermath of the party and then buries those damn gaudy cows from 1982. Shocker, the guy is Marty. And things seem to have gone very wrong in his relationship with his therapist.
Our time is up for now, but I’ll see you at our next session.
• Ike check-in: There’s a single moment in which Ike shares a real and true thing about himself. At the frame shop, he discloses that his father was a Holocaust survivor and that he was also a bad dad. He asks, “What do you do when a hero tells you you’re a loser?” You can bet that this unresolved childhood trauma is what has driven everything Ike has become and drives him to do everything you’re about to watch him do.
• Marty check-in: In that same frame-shop exchange, Marty also discloses a fear. He’s afraid he can’t run the fabric company and afraid to fail to live up to his father’s expectations. Daddy issues everywhere.
• Ike and Marty check-in: When Ike fools Marty into passing him the ball at the pickup game and Marty gets (understandably) frustrated, Ike says, “I just asked you for the ball. You didn’t have to pass it.” This line is the most curious and fascinating part of the episode. Ike might ask people like Marty to do things, but, at the end of the day, don’t people have to take responsibility for their own actions? When working with mental-health professionals, the answer to this question is complicated. The power dynamic between a psychiatrist and a patient is potent, and Ike is already clearly testing what buttons he can get away with pushing, thereby laying the groundwork for an abusive relationship.
• The one place that Marty truly shines in the ’80s is when he’s around his nieces and nephew. At one point, Phyllis brings her daughter’s entire ballet class to the fabric warehouse for a tour, and Marty comments that the group looks like “the twins from The Shining had another set of twins,” marking a moment where I legit laughed out loud for so long that I had to pause the episode.
• The first four episodes of the series are directed by Michael Showalter of Wet Hot American Summer and The Big Sick fame. Showalter is a frequent collaborator with Paul Rudd, and he has a knack for interweaving the comedic with the serious. It’s curious why Apple TV+ — with its Scrooge McDuck–size moneybags — didn’t nab him to direct all eight episodes.
• Given that the real Ike Herschkopf was a known celebrity hound, I’m sure it tickles him pink that the super-famous, super-sexy, super-ageless Paul Rudd is portraying him in this miniseries. As he’s clearly a monster, I’m loath to consider Herschkopf’s happiness, but honestly, if Paul Rudd played me in a miniseries, I would be over the moon, and I’m a lady.