Over the past eight weeks, The Shrink Next Door has taken Apple TV+ viewers on a rollercoaster of friendship, fraud, and fish, telling the true story (based on the podcast of the same name) of Marty Markowitz (played by Will Ferrell), who wound up suing Ike Hershkopf (Paul Rudd), his therapist of almost thirty years, for taking over his business, his Hamptons home, basically his entire life. Now, the show is wrapping up its run, as the saga endured by stars Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell ends on an only somewhat satisfactory note. (Poor Marty. All those years lost.)
We sat down with the show’s writer and director—Succession’s Georgia Pritchett and Search Party and Wet Hot American Summer veteran Michael Showalter, respectively, who are also executive producers on TSND—to talk about the series’ sad conclusion and Paul Rudd’s cult of personality.
The A.V. Club: This series only had an eight episode order, and it’s a lot of story to get through in that limited amount of time. Decades, even. Georgia, how did you go about framing 27 years of manipulation into just these eight eps?
Georgia Pritchett: I wanted to spend a few episodes really in detail where the two men got to know each other because my whole approach was that this is, in many ways, like a marriage. It lasted 27 years, which is longer than most marriages. So I wanted to show how the men got to know each other to show where they were in their lives at that moment, what it was they saw in each other, and to really feel, “I could be Marty in this situation.”
We’ve all experienced bereavement and problems at work and difficult relationships. So [Marty] was in a vulnerable place. We were all, in the last 18 months, in a vulnerable place, so it feels like a universal story. So I tracked their relationship in terms of how they came to get to know each other and trust each other.
I think what what works very well is that, when you talk to the real Marty, there was a sense of years rushing by. He just lost track of time. I think we tried to depict that on the show by having the first four episodes take place all within a year, really, and then the next four, you kind of race through time and and suddenly he kind of wakes up one day wondering what’s happened.
AVC: It’s not even that the stuff that Ike is saying is bad advice, most of the time, at least in session. It’s just the point where he takes it too far. He crosses way too many boundaries.
GP: I think my feeling was he’s a good therapist. He helps Marty and he intends to do so. What I was interested in is, instead of judging Ike or labeling him, was to show as much compassion to him as I did to Marty. I didn’t want to look at Marty and think, “You’re gullible, you’re an idiot,” but to think, “That could be me.”
So, with Ike, it’s not, “I think you’re a bad person,” but, “You’re a damaged person. Why are you behaving in this way? There must be some pain. There must be something missing in your life because no one behaves like this unless there’s a problem.”
AVC: Michael, when do you think it turned for Ike? When did the lightbulb turn on as far as when he realized what he could do to Marty?
Michael Showalter: Well, there’s the true story, and then there’s our retelling of it. In the story, in the episodes, it seems like it’s when Ike understands that Marty’s got some money. It seems like a little bit of a light bulb goes off in his head.
Would you agree with that, Georgia?
GP: I think that’s right. Marty has a lot of things Ike would like. A house in the Hamptons, money, a business, a level of respect, and Marty doesn’t appreciate them. He doesn’t enjoy any of those things. So I think that’s hard for Ike, seeing something he wants so much and seeing someone else not valuing it.
MS: Yeah, because it’s the whole package of Marty that Ike loves.
It’s not just purely about the money or the actual cash. It’s about the social positioning, having the house in the Hamptons, having parties and inviting the right people to those parties, having the foundation… it’s all an image that Ike wants for himself.
With Marty, he has an opportunity to accomplish all of that, but it seems like in the series, it’s when he learns of the house in the Hamptons that he seems to go from from zero to 100 in terms of how he really gets caught up in that house.
AVC: Who can blame him? It’s a lovely house.
MS: Believe me, most of my ambition is rooted in a desire to have a house in the Hamptons one day.
AVC: Often, when we see therapists depicted on TV, they’re dangerous or they’re creeps, and I often wonder if those portrayals turn people away from actually seeing therapists. Georgia, how did you balance the idea that people who need therapy should go to therapy and there are great therapists out there versus the real fact that there are a few bad outcomes? How do you balance the weight of that?
GP: I think this certainly isn’t an anti-therapy piece. We’re all in favor of that.
I think we’re treating both men as humans. So although Ike is a therapist, he’s a human being. He’s had some difficulties. He has a complicated relationship with his father.
Our show is about two people and the effect they have on each other rather than specifically their patient and therapist relationship. It’s much more about this friendship and how and why it goes wrong.
AVC: Michael, you have worked with Paul Rudd for a long time. When did you two meet, and how did you develop this working relationship?
MS: I think I remember exactly when it was. I was doing a show that I had that was very, very off off off off Broadway. It was a theater company in New York called Club Thumb, and myself and David Wain and Joe Lo Truglio had written this play in 24 hours.
Paul Rudd was friends with Zak Orth because they were both in Romeo + Juliet, the Baz Luhrmann movie, and Zak was in this show. And so Paul came to see the show at whatever little hole-in-the-wall theater we were doing this thing at.
This was way back in the ’90s, and we just completely hit it off. Then, of course, he was in Wet Hot American Summer playing against type, which was something he wanted to do, to play the bad boy. And he completely stole the movie.
He’s just always been someone who’s been very like-minded comedically. We sort of know all the same people and and we’d been talking about trying to find a project to work together on. We both listened to this podcast and just thought, “Oh my god, there’s just so much here. This could be a really perfect thing to work together on.”
AVC: It’s hard to think of Wet Hot American Summer or Paul Rudd, really, without thinking about that scene where he has to pick up his dining hall tray.
MS: Now that I have kids, there’s always, “Clean up that thing that you did,” and they do [it begrudgingly.] We always say, “Oh, she’s in there Paul Rudding,” or “She’s having a Paul Rudd moment with the puzzles” or whatever. It’s the Paul Rudd moment.
AVC: The opening sequences for each episode changed, as the vines, representing Ike, invaded different areas of Marty’s life. Why did you decide to do that, and how did you build those out?
GP: You know, it’s very difficult in an abusive or unhealthy relationship. We talked to a lot of people who experienced those, and I think it’s very difficult to track when things start to get unhealthy, and so we wanted the title sequence to reflect that. It starts off looking nice and fun, with lots of greenery.
Ike always had lots and lots of plants in his office and in his home, and we just liked the idea of these tendrils reaching out and taking over and enveloping and engulfing everything, because that’s the term Marty used to describe the relationship. He said that it’s almost like he was under a spell that had sort of crept up on him and drawn him in without him quite noticing, so we were trying to reflect that in the title sequence.
AVC: This show really shows a lot of the Jewish family experience, including bar mitzvahs, high holy days, synagogues, and so on. Why was it important to you to get all of that on screen?
MS: Their Jewishness is really a big part of who they are and a big part of this story is being a New Yorker, being Jewish, and that community. It is very insular.
It’s also a big part of the podcast, and I think it was an important part of these characters. One of the ways that Ike and Marty really come together is around Jewishness. It’s the Jewish community and the foundation that they start and the connections that are made through that, which is very important to Ike.
I think one of the really beautiful things about this story is seeing the specificity of it. Being in the temple with them and hearing them talking about it, I think is just a really important element to who these people are, where they’ve come from, and why they are the way they are.
Georgia talked about Ike’s relationship with his father. His father was a Holocaust survivor. It’s a very important part of who these people are as people. So it needed to be a part of the story.
AVC: Ike is a cult of personality, in that he’s like a cult, but it’s one guy. Have you ever been swept away by someone like that before realizing it’s actually bullshit?
GP: No, but I did talk to people who had been in cults as part of my research, and it did feel like it had a lot of resonance with the kind of relationship that America had just gone through with Trump in terms of the sort of the lies and the way he had treated people and talked about people, so I’m really fascinated by that.
I think Paul Rudd was ideal casting because he’s so charismatic and he’d sweep you off your feet. And then just when you started to think, “No, this isn’t right,” he’d win you around again. I was still saying by the end that I would go to Paul’s version of Ike as a therapist still today, because he was just so wonderful in many ways. It was a great performance.