Marty (Will Ferrell) needs help. Life is getting on top of him and he needs somebody to show him the way. He thinks he’s found that somebody in psychiatrist Ike (Paul Rudd), but after Ike helps repair Marty’s life, he decides to take it over.
Episodes viewed: 5 of 8
Streaming on: Apple TV+
Based on a 2019 true-life podcast of the same name, The Shrink Next Door has Will Ferrell as Marty, a far too trusting man whose life is taken over by his therapist, Ike (Paul Rudd). It’s a potentially rich idea — how does a man whose profession is to fix psychological problems decide to manipulate them to his own ends? — and the casting is inspired. Disappointingly, the show doesn’t make the most of either.
It begins with a flash-forward. Ike, clearly rich, is hosting a grand summer party. Marty seems to be his beleaguered employee, thanklessly cleaning up after everyone. We cut to many years earlier, with Marty running his own business. How did he get from here to odd-job man, seems to be the question. It’s almost immediately obvious, which lets all the air out of the concept. This is the story of how a broken man becomes a more broken man.
Marty is overwhelmed by the world. His father recently died, leaving him a curtain business and lots of assets. He has plenty of money but little else. He’s split from his girlfriend, he doesn’t know how to run a company, and his sister Phyllis (Kathryn Hahn) treats him more like a child than a sibling. When Marty has a panic attack at work, Phyllis sends him to a psychiatrist. Ike is not like other psychiatrists. He treats Marty like a friend, taking him to play basketball on their first session. Marty wants a friend.
Each episode passes with little sense of knowing anybody better than when we started.
There’s a lack of dramatic tension in this relationship because Marty is 100 per cent suggestible. More interesting is the question of why Ike would con Marty. On that, Georgia Pritchett’s doles out the answer slowly. In the opening three episodes, Ike raises a series of unanswered questions. Why are his professional methods so offbeat? Why does conning come so easily? If we’re to get invested in Ike’s plotting, a bit more of a peek into who he is and why is needed. Each episode passes with little sense of knowing anybody better than when we started.
Ferrell is dialled down as Marty. He still has the man-child element he’s known for, but he’s quietly naive rather than like an over-tired toddler. He makes Marty sympathetic, an innocent ripe for exploitation. Casting Rudd, meanwhile, sounds like a masterstroke. He’s naturally charming, so having him play a scheming villain is interesting. Except there’s no charm to the boorish Ike, leaving Rudd lost, mugging in an effort to give the character some life.
It’s unclear if the problems with Ike are down to wayward choices by Rudd or if the confusion comes from director Michael Showalter. The show’s tone is peculiar. Rudd’s performance is pitched several notches above everyone else’s and it’s not obvious if Showalter intends the show to be the comedy we’d expect from the pair or a drama that subverts those expectations. It doesn’t work as either. Sadly, this Shrink has a lot of issues to resolve.
The premise sounds so simple and fruitful. But despite all the talent involved, the result is confusing, landing in a no-man’s-land between comedy, drama and thriller.