The Shrink Next Door review – Paul Rudd traps Will Ferrell in a cult of two

Ferrell is a neurotic patient and Rudd a dangerously narcissistic therapist, in this plodding drama about a real-life scam which is saved by the sheer unbelievability of its source material

‘I’m not going to let anyone use you … I’m going to help you and everything’s going to be all right.” There are three types of people in this world. Those who, upon hearing such a pronouncement, cling to it and its utterer like a drowning man to driftwood. Then there are those who would run – fast and far and never looking back. And then, of course, there are those who would say such a thing.

In Apple TV+’s The Shrink Next Door, Marty (Will Ferrell) is the first kind – a 40-year-old bundle of borderless neuroses, a manchild in over his head at work and everywhere else. His sister Phyllis (Kathryn Hahn, continuing to prove the notion that everything should have more Kathryn Hahn in it) is the second kind. Tough and sceptical, the only fool she suffers in her life is Marty, and none too gladly. It is she who puts Marty the way of Dr Ike (Paul Rudd), a therapist and the utterer in question. Over the next 30 years, he inveigles his way into Marty’s life, his finances and his home (or at least his summer home in the Hamptons), to the painful incredulity of Phyllis who – as anyone who has witnessed a friend or family member being colonised by a narcissist will know – is powerless to do anything about it, even before she is ostracised from their cult of two.

This eight-part drama series is based on a true story, first told in a podcast of the same name by Joe Nocera, and has a lot stacked in its favour. Casting the innately charming, funny Rudd against type is what the world – and surely Rudd – has been waiting for. Pairing him with his frequent partner-in-comedy Ferrell to give their usual dynamic a toxic twist has plenty of potential. And the unpicking of why victims like Marty and perpetrators like Ike behave as they do is endlessly intriguing.

Time’s up? … Paul Rudd in The Shrink Next Door.
Time’s up? … Paul Rudd in The Shrink Next Door. Photograph: Apple +

Alas, not much of this is exploited in The Shrink Next Door. Ike takes advantage of Marty from virtually the moment they meet and before either have been established as characters, which makes it hard to credit that one could be so unsubtle or the other so gullible. And because Marty acquiesces so quickly, the story rapidly becomes repetitive. Ike’s abuses of his patient – or friend, as Marty would call himself – vary only in degree, not kind.

By the end of their first session Marty is on the hook and paying for the doctor’s purchases at the frame store they stroll to. The grift and the gouging get bigger as time goes on and Ike discovers the depths of his friend/client/mark’s pockets.

Soon he has a role as consultant at the fabrics factory Marty has inherited from his father and – as we know from the opening scene of episode one – will become installed at his Hamptons house. But everything else remains largely static, especially as Ike isolates Marty from Phyllis and anyone else who might let daylight in on the lucrative relationship he has managed to create. Ike’s wife voices occasional doubts but is never a force to be reckoned with. There appears to be no real malevolence at Ike’s core, just pure unexplained narcissism, and Ferrell is too plodding a dramatic actor to bring much nuance to Marty’s vulnerability.

Still, the sheer size and nerve of the three-decade scam will keep you going to the end. And if a few potential victims see their psychology mirrored in Marty and learn to save themselves from the Ikes of this world, that will be very much to the good.


Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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