The Shrink Next Door Episodes 1–3: Grooming for Success

Marty (Will Ferrell) and Ike (Paul Rudd) talk as they walk down a street.
Courtesy of Apple TV+

Imagine spending close to 30 years of your life living as someone’s puppet because you thought they were helping you. You lose your home to that person because they believe it would be appropriate for their face to be the front. They become a partner in your business and then slowly start to take all the control. They even manipulate you into disconnecting from your family. This all sounds pretty crazy, doesn’t it? Now imagine that the person doing this to you is your therapist. It sounds like the beginnings of a Lifetime Original Movie, right? Well, believe it or not, this is the very thing that happened to Martin “Marty” Markowitz and is the subject of the new Apple TV+ series The Shrink Next Door.

Joe Nocera’s podcast by the same name came out in 2019 and wound up being a huge hit. In it, Nocera recounts how he stumbled into this story by simply discovering that his next-door neighbor wasn’t who he had presented himself to be. In preparation for the new series, I went and listened to it in order to form my own thoughts on the story. Although I was constantly thinking how someone as educated as Marty could have fallen for manipulation such as Doctor Isaac “Ike” Herschkopf, I also found myself completely understanding.

Warning: the following will contain spoilers from Episodes 1–3 of Apple TV’s The Shrink Next Door. It’s highly recommended that you watch the episodes before reading on.

Marty (Will Ferrell) talks to Doctor Ike (Paul Rudd) in his office.
Courtesy of Apple TV+

What the series manages to achieve in its opening three episodes, which were dropped all at once, is a grooming process for not only Marty (Will Ferrell) but for viewers as well. Predators, either of the social, sexual, or emotional sense of the word, all go through a stage with their victims called grooming. It’s in this process that they get the attention of their soon-to-be victim and earn their trust. They lure them into a sense of security. Nothing bad could happen with this person because they love me. 

When we first meet Marty, he is an anxiety-ridden man who needs to have his younger sister Phyllis (Kathryn Hahn) finish a lot of his battles. He can’t negotiate with an older customer and he can’t face his ex-girlfriend when she won’t leave him alone because he promised her a vacation. Instead, he begins to experience chest pains and hiding seems like the only answer. Marty, at first appearance, is really like a lot of us who suffer from massive anxiety. I’m one of those people, and I can say that with that first panic attack Marty had my undying devotion. He’s a character you can quickly connect with, especially if you go through what he does.

It’s under Phyllis’s recommendation that he seeks help and finds his way to Ike (Paul Rudd). The Shrink Next Door uses these first three episodes to build up Ike’s character. Listening to the podcast alone, I found myself absolutely despising the real Doctor Isaac Herschkopf, but the series made him more human. It gave him self-esteem issues that were hinted at during the podcast. We get to explore his home life and meet his wife, Bonnie (Casey Wilson). All these elements were given to the viewers as a way for us to give up our instant disgust and actually sympathize with him. 

The grooming process with Marty also begins simply enough. When Ike gets Marty to go to the apartment of his ex to confront her on everything, it is Ike that does most of the talking, but he later praises Marty for having done it. Marty is in such a state of disbelief over everything that’s happened that he doesn’t second-guess that he really didn’t do anything. Ike manipulates their first meeting when they leave the office and begin running errands for Ike, ending up with Marty paying not only for his session but also for one of Ike’s photo frames. As the three episodes progress, Marty begins to present mannerisms that belong more to Ike than himself. Ike is a more confident man, and usually those with issues finding confidence in themselves would begin to act like the versions they want to be. For Marty, that’s being able to have the same confidence and charisma as Ike.

Phyllis (Kathryn Hahn) tries to talk to someone.
Courtesy of Apple TV+

A series like The Shrink Next Door wouldn’t work as well as it does if it wasn’t for the amazing talent they brought in to bring these versions of their real-life counterparts to life. Although this series is supposed to be a comedy—and most of the cast are well-known comedy actors—The Shrink Next Door manages to be that form of comedy that isn’t usually appreciated by everyone. It’s subtle, and having a cast that was able to bring those subtly funny moments to life without making them feel out of place is an incredible feat in itself.

Heading up this cast of comedians tasked with balancing drama and comedy is Will Ferrell, who I must admit I was a little hesitant with. For me, he seems to constantly find his way into the over-the-top tier. He’s often loud, very physical in his performances, and constantly turned up to an 11. Martin Markowitz is a far cry from any of Ferrell’s usual characters—even his role in Stranger Than Fiction. Ferrell is almost unrecognizable in The Shrink Next Door, with his performance being much more reserved. He manages to make himself the smallest person in the room, and when he does have bursts of energy and excitement, they are still kept tame. It’s this physical and emotional transformation that makes this perhaps the best Will Ferrell role to date.

Playing the charismatic Doctor Ike is Paul Rudd, who already oozes charisma but still manages to make you completely terrified of Herschkopf when he decides to bring out his darker side. There are slight changes in how Ike presents himself with Marty—between the jolly therapist there to help and the psychopathic manipulative man who strives for attention and to be in the limelight. As I said above, the first three episodes are really making us buy into why Marty would even trust this man, and Rudd manages to capture why we would. He also manages to capture how untrustworthy he could be for those who are not easily manipulated by his charm. We witness the same charm he uses on Marty being used on Phyllis when she comes in to check him out. She believes it until he slips and mentions something no one should know, which makes her realize that he has no sense of boundaries. Ike then twists this and is able to make himself the victim.

Rounding out the main cast is Kathryn Hahn as Phyllis Shapiro, a complete turnaround from WandaVision‘s Agatha Harkness, which she filmed pretty much at the same time. Her Phyllis is ballsy through and through and constantly the protector. The bond she manages to form with Ferrell’s Marty feels completely real, which makes the bubbling tension brought on by Ike heartbreaking to watch. Hahn still manages to hold her own and completely steal any scene she’s in because she brings an energy to this character that radiates long after she’s left the scene. 

The podcast was mainly told from Marty’s point of view, with Ike being represented through his email correspondence at the time and by other testimonials from previous clients. Having listened and watched pretty much simultaneously, I feel as though these performances have mirrored their real-life counterparts pretty well. Also, with The Shrink Next Door being a television series, we are able to explore the different points of view of the characters because no one character can be all good or all evil. That would be boring. Instead, this series allows for even the most hated of characters, Ike, to have some layers that explain why he’s done the things he’s done. I’ve also enjoyed the fact that they’ve combined Marty’s tale with some of Ike’s other victims. Maybe Ike is a repeat offender when it comes to his tactics or maybe he’s not, but by doing this we can make his Ike more universal. He won’t just stand for the real-life Herschkopf but for any person who uses mental tactics in order to manipulate their victims. I just hope that later in the series we are able to meet some of his other patients/victims so we can see that Marty is not a “special case” but that this has been happening for a long time.

These first three episodes serve as the set-up for the years of abuse Ike is about to put Marty through. By the end, Marty has a completely broken relationship with Phyllis and Ike has the revelation that Marty is worth a lot more than he is letting on. Through Ike’s reaction to the Hamptons house and telling Marty that he’s “going to protect him,” the final moments of Episode 3 show clear as day that Ike no longer sees Marty as a client with whom he can pull petty manipulation. Instead, it shows that Marty is a helpless, drowning animal, and Ike is the parasite that has sunk his teeth into him. We’re only at the beginning, though, and there are still five more episodes left to The Shrink Next Door.

Written by Katie Bienvenue

Katie is a writer, cosplayer, craftswoman, and Barista. When she isn't talking about Chainmaille she is usually found discussing some television series, film, or how to properly make one's latte.

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