Photo: ‘The Shrink Next Door’
Although it can be jarring at first for audiences watching actors or writers take on an unexpected project, it almost always pays off. There is an understanding that comedic actors are often pigeonholed into sillier roles, but when given the opportunity to shine in dramatic roles, they rise to the occasion. For example, Jordan Peele switching from comedy sketches into becoming the face of horror writing, there is something about a comedian’s timing that translates exceptionally well into revealing other emotions.
This may be because laughing and crying are both cathartic emotions, ones where a physical response is evoked. Same with horror, the physical jump of being scared. On November 12th, Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell will take on a heftier true-crime role in their upcoming show ‘The Shrink Next Door’ and although both actors are known for their comedic work, the premise isn’t all that funny. The Apple TV+ show is described as a dark-comedy limited series that will last eight episodes. It’s an impressive cast with the supporting characters being Kathryn Hahn, who had a spectacular year with ‘WandaVision’, and Casey Wilson, who stars in the Showtime series ‘Black Monday’.
‘The Shrink Next Door’ – The Show Based On A Podcast
‘The Shrink Next Door’ is a story about manipulation, power struggle, and trusting the wrong people. Ferrell plays Martin “Marty” Markowitz, who in a place of vulnerability is referred to Dr. Isaac “Ike” Herschkopf (Rudd), a charming psychiatrist. Over the course of 30 years, Ike manages to take over Marty’s life; moving into his home, taking over his family business, having him cut off his friends and family, and basically severely crossing any patient-doctor code of conduct. The series explores how a this dynamic can morph into a codependent and exploitative relationship with power grabs and dysfunction, like when Ike makes Marty type his novels for him, or when Ike becomes president of Marty’s company. Ferrell tells Entertainment Weekly, “It’s so relatable in a way — obviously it has special meaning for anyone who has done any amount of therapy.
When we talked to Marty about this, it was a perfect storm of someone in a vulnerable place who had never really sought this type of counsel before and decided to give it a shot.” Ferrell and Rudd are also both executive producers and from the very start they both knew what character they were playing. Kathryn Hahn plays Marty’s younger sister Phyllis, who in the trailer is seen as being suspicious of Herschkopf, and Casey Wilson who plays Ike’s wife Bonnie. The show is written by Georgia Pritchett, who is known for her work on ‘Succession’, ‘Run’, and ‘Veep’, all which combine elements of comedy and drama. Michael Showalter and Jesse Peretz direct the show. Showalter will also be directing the upcoming biopic ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ with Jessica Chastain. Peretz’ most recent work has been on ‘Modern Love’ and ‘High Fidelity’.
The Podcast Based On Real Events
The show is not only based off of true crime, but also a 2019 podcast, produced by Wondery and Bloomberg Media. Bloomberg columnist Joe Nocera’s podcast of the same name was the inspiration for the show. Ferrell reports that his agent was the one who told him to listen to the podcast because they were considering making it into a show. “The thing that intrigued me the most was the fact that you hear the premise of what the podcast is about and what has happened in broad strokes to a guy like Marty, and your initial reaction is, ‘Oh, that would never happen to me. There’s no way I would fall under the spell of a therapist and give over my entire life to them.’ And then you start digging in and you see the death by a thousand cuts of, ‘Oh, no, I now see how that could happen to me.’”
According to the podcast, other patients also accused Herschkopt of manipulating them financially and encouraging them to end relationships with their families- a tactic often done by abusers as a way to cut out outside concern. One woman that Herschkopf was seeing stopped speaking to her mother and didn’t attend her shiva or funeral. The New York State Department of Health made Herschkopf surrender his license. “The idea that these characters were real people — it was a real story — but they were also interesting people and an interesting story and [it was] a different kind of character for me to play. Also [it’s] not such a crazy story that you can’t believe it happened. It made me think of Brian Wilson and Eugene Landy when I heard the podcast,” said Rudd to Entertainment Weekly. They consulted the real Marty Markowitz, who was open to sharing his story, partly because Joe Nocero was present. Ferrell said that he was an “open book” and never tried to steer Ferrell into portraying him in a certain way but rather just answering any questions that they had.
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Comedy Actors And Drama Roles
While the show is described as a dark comedy, there are elements of drama within the story that inherently make it more serious than other roles that Rudd and Ferrell have been known for. There is a blend of comedy styles on the show, since the writers, directors, and actors all have experience in it, but it still is a psychological true crime story as well and both actors were aware of that. Ferrell said, “I think everyone that we wanted to cast and become part of this creative process [was] just on the same page that no matter how outlandish the circumstances might get, we were going to be deadly serious about portrayal. And then there’s obviously elements in the storytelling that are deadly serious. So we wanted everyone to be able to — hopefully, and I put myself in the same category — handle the acting parts of it that needed to be executed.” While Rudd and Ferrell may be known for their work in goofier films like iconic ‘Anchorman’, this is not the first time they’ve taken on playing a more dramatic role.
In 2006, Ferrell starred in comedy-drama ‘Stranger Than Fiction’, about an IRS agent hearing a narrator predicting his death. In it, he is not his usual over-the-top character, but rather subdued and introverted. He also starred in ‘Everything Must Go’, again described as a comedy-drama but with serious undertones as a man struggles with losing his job and his wife. In both of these films, funny doesn’t necessarily feel like the right word. While they are moments of humor, the undertones of the film, in my opinion, make it much closer to a drama. But, having a leading man like Will Ferrell, it seems only appropriate to market films as a comedy for them to get their typical audience. Rudd has done an even wider variety of roles, including the biography/ drama ‘The Catcher Was A Spy’ and comic book character Ant Man in the ‘Avengers’ franchise to name a few.
They aren’t the only comedy actors who are able to switch into more dramatic roles. In fact, many comedians go on to make stellar performances in dramatic roles. Robin Williams is perhaps the most known example, shining in ‘Good Will Hunting’. Jim Carrey is another, with the romantic fantasy drama ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ and ‘The Truman Show’. There are other actors however, that no matter how serious the roles, the films themselves are marketed as comedies. An example of this is Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in ‘Skeleton Twins’, about two suicidal adult twins reunited. While there are moments of lightness in the film, in no way is it ha-ha funny, in fact most of it is heartbreakingly bleak.
But it is still described as a “comedy-drama”, probably because the two protagonists are known for their work on ‘Saturday Night Live’. Steve Carrell has tremendous acting chops, as seen in ‘A Beautiful Boy’, but ‘Dan In Real Life’ a film about a widower falling in love with his brother’s girlfriend, yet again, appears to be funnier than it actually is. On the front of the poster, Carrell’s glum face rests on a stack of pancakes, looking like it could be up the same alley as ‘The 40 Year Old Virgin’. But the film has serious themes and should be taken seriously as a drama, not a comedy-drama.
It will be interesting to see how much of this dark-comedy is truly funny, or rather the writing is funny and the actors are funny, but the story is twisted and dark. Rudd and Ferrell both have remarkable talent and I hope that the show will do the real Marty Markowitz justice.
Starring: Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Kathryn Hahn, Casey Wilson, Cornell Womack
Director: Michael Showalter, Jesse Peretz
Writer: Georgia Pritchett
By Kylie Bolter
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