Inspired by a true story from the Wondery and Bloomberg podcast of the same name, Apple TV’s “The Shrink Next Door” stars Will Ferrell (“Elf”), who plays patient Marty Markowitz, and Paul Rudd (“Clueless”), who plays psychiatrist Ike Herschkopf, in a disconcerting narrative about manipulation and power imbalance. While the story is certainly twisted and interesting, the overwhelming focus on the two main characters hinders insights into each of their behaviors and leads to a great deal of wasted potential.
Set in New York City in the 1980s, the show follows Marty Markowitz, an anxious and insecure 39-year old man. He has recently become CEO of his father’s fabric company after his father’s passing. After suffering a panic attack induced by an angry customer and avoiding confrontation with his ex-girlfriend, Marty reluctantly agrees to go to the appointment that his sister, Phyllis Shapiro (Kathryn Hahn, “Bad Moms”), set up for him with Dr. Ike Herschkopf.
Following a successful first appointment, Marty decides to continue on with the goal of improving his self-confidence. He also hopes to come to terms with the death of his parents by continuing to see the doctor. But, Marty, appreciative of having someone validate his feelings, is oblivious to Dr. Herschkopf’s oddly overbearing behavior. It quickly becomes evident that the psychiatrist may have other intentions with Marty. Dr. Herschkopf realizes that Marty is the perfect candidate to be taken advantage of: Marty is rich enough, vulnerable enough and lonely enough to be easily exploited. “The Shrink Next Door” explores the relationship between these two individuals, from its onset in 1982 until its eventual termination 30 years later.
While the engaging premise provides a great deal of room to explore many topics, especially in regard to Dr. Herschkopf’s dangerous behavior and questions surrounding his relationships with other patients, the show, unfortunately, takes a much more predictable route.
Only 20 minutes into the pilot when they are wrapping up their first appointment, Dr. Herschkopf substantially overcharges Marty, asking him to pay nearly $100 (the equivalent of $300 in 2020) for an appointment that was just over an hour long. This would register as a red flag to most people, but Marty’s vulnerability leaves him unaware that he is being sorely taken advantage of. Even more alarming is Hershkopf’s behavior after finding out that Marty’s sister was looking into his credibility; he angrily confronts Marty and emotionally manipulates him into feeling anger toward his sister. This eventually serves as the catalyst for the wedge that grows between Marty and Phyllis, leaving him even more susceptible to the psychiatrist’s exploitation.
Ultimately, Dr. Herschkopf’s manipulative behavior is apparent from the start, and it is far too easy to guess the unfortunate fate that awaits Marty, leaving questions about where the show may go from here without becoming overly repetitive.
Considering the great deal of talk surrounding therapy and mental health today, there was a missed opportunity to delve into the psychology behind both main characters and why they act the way they do. Marty’s mindset is explored a bit, but certainly not to the depth it could be. In the first episodes, there are a couple of flashbacks into Marty’s childhood, which mainly just serve to highlight his awkwardness and perpetuate the idea that he has always been an inherently insecure person. A more productive use of the space could’ve shown some key events where Marty’s anxious tendencies were first introduced into his personality.
Even more of a missed opportunity was the chance to explore Herschkopf’s behavioral psychology. It would’ve been very intriguing to see what makes Herschkopf so manipulative and to see some of the reasons why he acts how he does. There are also a few mentions of the doctor’s other patients, so it would’ve been more interesting to perhaps have an episode dedicated to seeing how Herschkopf behaves in those relationships. This would also give us the chance to see if Herschkopf brings these manipulative traits into his relationship with his wife.
“The Shrink Next Door” certainly captures a story that is twisted and interesting on its own, but it doesn’t do much beyond surface-level plot development. Exploring beyond the relationship between the two main characters would’ve brought a lot more meaningful substance to the show, but it misses the mark by focusing so much on just those individuals. Granted, only the first three episodes of the show have been released, so there is certainly the possibility that the show takes this direction. However, given the progress that has been made thus far, it seems doubtful.
Daily Arts Writer Jenna Jaehnig can be reached at email@example.com.