‘The Shrink Next Door’: Michael Showalter and Georgia Pritchett on pairing Will Ferrell with Paul Rudd

Forty years ago, Marty Markowitz was a sad sack. Everything was going wrong for the mild-mannered New Yorker. He was divorced. He was having a hard time coping with the death of his parents. And some members of his relatives didn’t think he had the stuff to run his family’s fabric business. Enter New York-based therapist Ike Herschkopf who first presented himself as Marty’s knight in shining armor. But over the next three decades, their relationship turned dark and twisted as Ike took over Marty’s life and finances and caused major rift in his family. 

Three years ago, their dark, twisted and sad story was developed into the popular podcast ‘The Shrink Next Door,’ and last November Apple TV + premiered a new eight-part series starring Will Ferrell as Marty Markowitz and the People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive Paul Rudd as Ike. The two previously appeared together in the “Anchorman” comedies. 

Ironically, Marty and Ike’s story was still playing out while the limited series was being shot and even after its premiere. Last April, Ike was stripped of his license to practice after the Board for Professional Medical Conduct found him guilty on counts of misconduct.  Ike lost his appeal to get his license back this past December. The state review board said that Ike “lacked insight into his misconduct, exhibiting no remorse, and continues to believe he behaved appropriately.”

The series’ executive producer and director Michael Showalter loved the podcast. “This is very much a world I’m familiar with-therapy-but also New York City and the Hamptons,” he said during a recent Deadline Zoom conversation. “I could picture all of it. I knew the landscape and the locations they were talking about. I felt it was  both a very kind of heartbreaking and compelling story and stranger than fiction. But I also saw there was a potential to do something comedic and strange.” Showalter and Rudd, who also was a devoted listener of the podcast, had been wanting to do something together. And they both thought “Shrink” would make a great series. Simultaneously, Ferrell and his company had the same idea. “We joined forces and went out and looked for an amazing writer to come in and bring it all to life.”

The writer they found was five-time Emmy Award-winner of “Veep” and “Succession” fame, Georgia Pritchett. “She had her own interpretation and her own take on it,” said Showalter.  “We just loved the way she saw the relationship.” Pritchett quipped that she has found a “little niche for myself of writing [about] apparently awful people. I really enjoy that and enjoy kind of trying to find compassion for people who don’t, perhaps on the surface it, deserve it.” “The Shrink Next Door” felt like an exciting opportunity for her because this was a “story about a relationship…just digging into the emotions and complications of this extraordinary relationship felt like an opportunity to do what I’d been doing but on a much more kind of personal and emotional level.”

Pritchett admitted that it would have been easy to write Marty and Ike simply as black-and-terms with Marty as the hero and Ike as the villain. he hero or a villain. “We needed to work out how on Earth did this happen and sort of dig into both men’s characters and try and show them compassion rather than blame. I think what we didn’t want is for people to think ‘Marty’s a fool or naïve and Ike’s evil.’  You know, we thought the kind of approach was to almost treat it a love story.”’

And it works as a love story. The two men meet and hit it off and for a while. There was a great dynamic between the two only to find their relationship veer off into darkness and toxicity. “And I would say abusive,” she noted. “We wanted to really take the viewers with us on that journey and not have them kind of point fingers and say I would never do that’ or ‘he’s an idiot.” She noted casting Rudd as Ike made it easier for viewers to believe he could have charmed Marty and “fall for everything he can offer. I think it’s very difficult when a relationship goes wrong to pinpoint exactly when that happens. It’s so easy to get suck into something very difficult or dangerous and not know how to escape.”

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