The intimacy of psychiatry was made for drama. The most renowned TV series of the modern era was, at first, centered on its antihero’s talk-therapy sessions — exploring both what was troubling Tony Soprano and the ways in which his monstrousness, seen at close range, compelled and seduced the professional trying to help him.
“The Shrink Next Door,” directed by Michael Showalter and Jesse Peretz and written by Georgia Pritchett, reverses the manipulation. On Apple TV Plus’ new limited series (based on the true-crime podcast of the same name), it’s the doctor (Paul Rudd) who’s absent a moral compass, squeezing fealty out of his patient (Will Ferrell). But, leaving unfair comparisons with “The Sopranos” aside, “The Shrink Next Door” simply lacks the vibrant give-and-take that its subject matter suggests. Its characters feel unknowable, a problem for a show that concerns the emotional and intellectual tug-of-war in the therapist’s office.
“The Shrink Next Door” loses focus — perhaps because the therapy it depicts is happening constantly. Dr. Ike Herschkopf (Rudd) meets with Marty Markowitz (Ferrell), the CEO of a fabric company, for a mental health tuneup. Soon enough, Herschkopf has convinced Markowitz to cut ties with his family and to grant the doctor unfettered access to his Hamptons home. We see this confidence game play out, with Herschkopf assuring his patient that he’s close to a breakthrough, as long as he grants his doctor just a little more access. In short order, this corporate leader is taking his psychiatrist’s dictation and giving him his master bedroom.
For all the outsize theft, “The Shrink Next Door” feels remote. Herschkopf alternates between solicitous and icy, but both sides read as closed off and unappealing. Rudd, an ebulliently charismatic performer, nails the half of the performance in which Herschkopf shuts off his warmth. But he never conjures the charm that would engage us in his schemes, or even help us understand Markowitz’s falling for them. Ferrell, effectively playing a character alienated from his desires, doesn’t help matters: There’s no back-and-forth between an unscrupulous analyst and an analysand who’s willing to hand over everything. It’s a well-acted portrayal of an inert person — hardly the stuff of great drama. No expense was spared in building sets and procuring costumes that make the socioeconomic details of this story come through crisply, but both characters are, in the end, ciphers.
Eventually, with the help of his sister (Kathryn Hahn, surprisingly underused), Markowitz moves toward understanding his situation. But why a successful person was willing to throw decades of life and millions of dollars at a psychiatrist who treated him as a plaything remains unsolved. Not every mystery of the universe needs to be explained in art. But “The Shrink Next Door” seems more interested in registering shock that an unusual thing happened than in making us care enough about the parties involved to wonder why.
“The Shrink Next Door” premieres November 12 on Apple TV Plus.
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