The Shrink Next Door

Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd play surprisingly grounded characters in the Apple TV+ limited series "The Shrink Next Door."

There he is, with his high-waisted slacks, pink-and-beige argyle sweater vest, and oversized glasses.

There he is, Paul Rudd. Mr. Sexiest Man Alive 2021 himself.

It’s likely that People Magazine bestowed its dubious honor on Rudd last week as a promotional tie-in with the upcoming “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” which opens Friday. But it’s a funny coincidence that the award was given the same week that seemingly ageless Rudd looks about as unappealing as he possibly could on the new Apple TV+ limited series “The Shrink Next Door.” (I mean, he still looks fine, but by Paul Rudd standards he’s a gargoyle.)

What’s so interesting about “The Shrink Next Door,” is that while Rudd's character initially seems like one of the nice guys he usually plays, in reality he's the closest thing the show has to a villain.

"Shrink" reteams him with Will Ferrell from “Anchorman,” but there’s no backslapping Ron Burgundy-Brian Fantana broad comedy here. It’s still funny, but in a much drier way, and Ferrell and Rudd are playing surprisingly grounded, complex characters.

The year is 1982, and Ferrell plays Marty Markowitz, the meek scion of a prosperous New York curtain-making company who is having frequent panic attacks at the prospect of running the business now that his father has died. It’s bracing to see Ferrell, known for playing big, overconfident goofballs like Burgundy, hunch over and play such a timid, gentle soul. His flinty sister Phyllis (the always-terrific Kathryn Hahn) encourages Marty to see a therapist to deal with his emotional issues.

At first, Dr. Isaac Herschkopf (Rudd) seems to be able to help Marty overcome his fears, although his methods are somewhat unorthodox. They are only a few minutes into their first session before “Dr. Ike” takes Marty out to play pickup basketball at a nearby court, and later threatens Marty’s ex-girlfriend with prison time if she keeps harassing Marty. In the second episode, Dr. Ike convinces Marty to have a “do-over” bar mitzvah for his 40th birthday.

At first, Marty is thrilled to have Dr. Ike in his corner, pumping up his self-esteem and helping him face his problems. He’s so thrilled that he doesn’t see how Dr. Ike is slowly insinuating himself into his life, driving a wedge between Marty and Phyllis and getting Marty to spring for that bar mitzvah and a host of other expenses.

Based on a true story recounted in a Wondery podcast, directed by Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick”) and written by showrunner Georgia Pritchett (“Succession”), “The Shrink Next Door” is a slow burn, as Dr. Ike takes over all aspects of Marty’s life over the course of 30 years.

The show is very funny. Dr. Ike’s demands become increasingly bizarre, but also quietly riveting, as we wait for Marty to finally figure out he’s being manipulated and see if he can extricate himself. It’s not the kind of comedy one expects out of a Ferrell-Rudd team-up, but it's very satisfying.

Also on streaming: Netflix drops its much-anticipated live-action adaptation of the beloved anime series “Cowboy Bebop” on Friday. John Cho and Mustafa Shakir play intergalactic bounty hunters cruising the galaxy. The original anime is also on Netflix so you can compare and contrast.

Another week, another attempt to make the next “Game of Thrones.” This time it’s Amazon’s “Wheel of Time,” premiering Friday. Based on Robert Jordan’s fantasy novels, the series stars Rosamund Pike as a wizard searching for “The Dragon Reborn,” a mythic being who prophecy says will either save the world or destroy it.

Mindy Kaling’s post-”The Mindy Show” output has been a little spotty, but her new HBO Max series “The Sex Life of College Girls” looks promising. It premieres Thursday, and as the title suggests, follows the romantic entanglements of four female students at an elite private college.

 

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