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‘The Shrink Next Door’: Therapist invades his client’s life in darkly funny Apple TV+ series

Both playing nicely against type, Paul Rudd portrays the unscrupulous psychiatrist and Will Ferrell is the insecure man he exploits.

Dr. Ike (Paul Rudd, left) promises Marty (Will Ferrell) that he’ll help him become more assertive in “The Shrink Next Door.”
Apple TV+

“I’m going to look after you. I am going to take care of everything.” – Paul Rudd’s Dr. Ike to Will Ferrell’s Marty Markowitz in “The Shrink Next Door.”

In a couple of early-episode scenes set some 30 years apart in the darkly funny and offbeat Apple TV+ limited series “The Shrink Next Door,” Paul Rudd’s Dr. Ike Herschkopf seems inordinately happy over celebrity photo ops. In one incident, he insists on posing with Lisa Rinna at a lavish afternoon party he’s hosting; in the other, he’s beaming with joy when he picks up a newly framed photo of him with none other than Jackie Stallone.

What is it with this guy? Why does it matter so much to him to pose with these celebrities? Let’s just say there’s a lot more to Dr. Ike than him being some starstruck glad-hander who wants even the tiniest bit of stardust to rub off on him. He’s in this thing of his for the long run.

The long con, to be more precise.

Based on journalist Joe Nocero’s popular Wondery/Bloomberg podcast from 2019 (which is based on a true story), “The Shrink Next Door” is a fictionalized version of the incredible and appalling and shocking tale of Dr. Isaac “Ike” Herschkopf, a charming and brilliant but abusive psychiatrist who manipulated his patients for decades, in some cases controlling virtually every aspect of their lives. That Rudd’s “Anchorman” buddy Will Ferrell plays the dramatized version of real-life patient Marty Markowitz, who was victimized by Dr. Ike for some 27 years, makes this all the more intriguing.

Ferrell gets the relatively rare opportunity to ease off the comedic accelerator to play a character who suffers from anxiety and is profoundly lonely and all too eager to please, while the eminently likable Rudd seizes the chance to portray someone whose outward amiability and seemingly generous persona belies the truly terrible schemer lurking beneath the surface. Playing against type, they play beautifully off one another.

Kathryn Hahn plays Marty’s sister, who urges him to get therapy.
Apple TV+

Like so many recent limited series, “The Shrink Next Door” opens with a scene that takes place near the end of the story. The year is 2010, and Rudd’s gray-haired, 60ish Dr. Ike is working every corner of the posh party he’s hosting, with his B.S. flowing as freely as the cocktails. (Thanks to the excellent hair and makeup work and Rudd’s body language, we believe Paul Rudd really can age.) Then we flash back to 1982, when we meet Ferrell’s Marty, who has oversized glasses, and a ’fro and beard that make him look like Bob Ross. Marty has inherited his parents’ Manhattan fabric factory, and he runs it in a genial fashion while his sister, Phyllis (Kathryn Hahn, at her very best), urges Marty to be more assertive and take control of his life. Maybe he should see a therapist? Her rabbi knows a good one.

Enter Dr. Ike, who has a quick consultation with Marty and immediately decides, for the both of them, he’ll be taking on Marty as a client and from this moment forward, he’ll see to it that Marty doesn’t let people walk all over him. Dr. Ike accompanies Marty to the apartment of Marty’s ex-girlfriend, who has demanded Marty take her on a vacation even though they’ve broken up, because Marty promised, and quickly informs her that’s never happening. He helps Marty become more decisive when it comes to small matters like ordering a sandwich, and deep-rooted issues dating to Marty’s childhood, e.g., when Marty talks about how his Bar Mitzvah was one of the most miserable days of his life, Dr. Ike convinces him that on his 40th birthday, Marty should have another Bar Mitzvah.

There are early warning signs Dr. Ike’s motivations aren’t always altruistic. When he takes Marty to lunch, he reminds him they’re still on the clock. When they drop in on the frame shop, Dr. Ike has conveniently forgotten his wallet, so Marty offers to pay. And this is just the tip of the Gaslighting Iceberg, if there’s such a thing as a Gaslighting Iceberg.

With deft direction by Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick,” “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”) and in later episodes Jesse Peretz (the Rudd-starring “Our Idiot Brother,” “Juliet, Naked”) and consistently sharp writing led by Georgia Pritchett (“Veep,” “Succession”), “The Shrink Next Door” grows ever darker along the way. We occasionally see the chipper façade fall from Dr. Ike’s visage and it’s a chilling thing, and while it’s sometimes baffling to see Marty allow Dr. Ike to convince him to cut ties with his family, to become his de facto banker and to allow Dr. Ike to essentially take over his business and his Hamptons home, among other wildly inappropriate intrusions, we understand what’s happening here. Dr. Ike is for all intents and purposes a cult leader, and poor Marty has fallen prey to his spell.