SERIES "The Shrink Next Door"
WHERE|WHEN Starts streaming Friday on Apple TV+
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Several years ago, the Bloomberg Opinion (then New York Times) columnist Joe Nocera bought a house in Southampton. He quickly noticed there was something odd about his neighbor, Dr. Isaac "Ike" Herschkopf, a prominent Manhattan psychiatrist, also a power player in New York Jewish philanthropic circles. "Dr. Ike," he found out, pretended to own the well-appointed Hamptons home next door, while his longtime patient and the house's real owner, Martin Markowitz, appeared to be in his employ as a groundskeeper. Nocera figured there was a story there and he was right: His 2019 podcast, "The Shrink Next Door," was a big hit.
Now comes the streaming series, with Paul Rudd as Herschkopf and Will Ferrell as Markowitz (Kathryn Hahn also stars as Markowitz's estranged sister, Phyllis Shapiro, and Casey Wilson, as Herschkopf's wife, Bonnie). In this eight-parter, Herschkopf takes over Markowitz's mind, then his business — Marty inherited his parent's thriving fabrics company — and finally that nice Hamptons house.
MY SAY Rudd's Dr. Ike is a practiced gaslighter, skillful schnorrer and monumental creep. He winks and smirks while dispensing banal canapés of faux wisdom — so banal and faux that they could fit on one side of a gum wrapper. Ferrell's Marty Markowitz suffers from crippling anxiety, low self-esteem and decision paralysis. He's also very rich, with a nice perch in Southampton. That makes Marty an obvious mark, quickly a compliant one.
True story, true portrayals? (Herschkopf recently told the Jewish Standard that the podcast is "90% untrue," while Nocera told the newspaper it had been "fact checked to a fare-thee-well.") The better question with this series, much the easier one, is this however: Are these two worth spending this much time with?
Rudd and Ferrell certainly spend a vast amount of screentime together themselves — almost all of it, really. Not unlike Nick Kroll and John Mulaney's comic Broadway characters, Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, they're a pair of Manhattan nebbishes who talk a lot but say nothing. Unlike those two, they're not much fun. The opposite, in fact. It's quickly obvious to us that the power dynamic is malignant but not to them. Instead, Marty falls willingly (or blindly) into the word traps Dr. Ike has set for him. As shrinks might say, the pattern is both circular and self-reinforcing. Here it's just unending.
What's missing, besides comic relief or a sense of whimsy — as if — is any hint of an interior life for either character. As Herr Doctor Freud once observed, "properly speaking, the unconscious is the real psychic" but he clearly never met these two guys. They have no subconscious, no mysteries stirring within. They're just a pair of Flat Stanleys, without depth or substance, who live in a flattened world where nothing else seems to be happening around them. They're unmitigated bores.
Because Rudd's Herschkopf is so reliably repugnant and Ferrell's Marty so utterly hopeless, as a viewer you eventually feel trapped as well. There's no way out, no exit, just eight long hours spent with two famous actors who seem to know nothing of the people they're supposed to be.
BOTTOM LINE Creepy, sad, repellent.