How does one end up in a cult? It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves at some point. How does someone end up entirely under the sway of another person’s will? The Shrink Next Door can’t answer that question for everyone, but it can answer it for Marty Markowitz, a successful but anxiety-ridden new york businessman who ended up in the thrall of his psychiatrist for nearly thirty years.
As with many shows that are based on real-life, the story is almost too much to be believed. Markowitz (played by Will Ferrell), struggling with his business and an ex-girlfriend, seeks therapy from Dr Isaac “Ike” Herschkopf (Paul Rudd). Herschkopf’s methods immediately stand out as skirting the line of professional ethics –he literally tells off the ex-girlfriend, in person, while Marty stands there nearly helpless– but Marty is enamoured. “People take advantage of you,” Herschkopf says, “but not anymore. I am going to take care of you.”
It wouldn’t be a series of things didn’t get weird. These eight episodes of television chronicle just how deeply Herschkopf ingratiated himself into Marty’s life, and serve to showcase excellent performances from stars Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell.
Both Rudd and Ferrell, along with co-star Kathryn Hahn, put on the accent of new york jews, and while each of them come right up to the edge of caricature, none cross it as it would be so easy to do. Kathryn Hahn has the least screen time of the three as Marty’s sister Phyllis, which makes sense when you learn that Marty cut her out of his life at the behest of Ike, but Hahn is such a good actor that she nearly overshadows the stars in most of their shared scenes.
Rudd takes his natural charm and dials it to eleven as Ike and ads in a dash of self-delusion. Ike is overtly manipulative from his first scenes right to the end, but the script calls for a character who believes his own bullshit. Ike truly believes that he is entitled to everything in Marty’s life and pushes disconnection from anyone and everyone who might threaten his endless quest for stature in his community. You probably know someone like him, that mix of faux concern and real self-centredness, a combination that makes the ever-smiling Ike someone you almost love to hate.
Ferrell’s performance as Marty is wonderfully against type. Marty is anxiety-ridden and conflict-avoidant (to the point that early on, he’d rather hide behind a curtain than say no to a customer at his fabric business), and despite being the tallest person in the cast, does a great job of conveying the smallness that Marty felt. He’s quiet and unassuming, and it’s a great reminder of the Ferrell we saw in other great outings like Stranger Than Fiction.
While the series does at times feel repetitive –there are only so many times that Ike can berate Marty before it starts to get a bit frustrating. Still, this is s story told over nearly three decades, from the early 1980s through to 2010, so while it is repetitive, it also actually happened. It feels like it could be a little shorter, but I also am not sure which events could be cut either, especially given that the series only really explores Ike and Marty’s relationship, whereas,, in real life, Ike ingratiated himself into the lives (and finances) of many others, too.
So what is the answer to the question then? How does one end up in a cult? The answer for Marty is a combination of his anxieties and eagerness to please, combined with a charismatic man who has no problem taking full advantage. Indeed, Marty didn’t have anyone else around him –Ike had him isolated from anyone and everyone in his life– but a cult of one is still a cult.
The Shrink Next Door has some pacing issues, but the good far outweighs the bad. Ferrell, Rudd, and Hahn are all excellent, and the story is one of those that you will want to keep watching just to see what happens next.
The Shrink Next Door first three episodes premiere this Friday, November 12th, 2021, with the remaining five episodes following each Friday. I have seen all eight.
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