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Recalling when likable Paul Rudd was an exploitive heel

Paul Rudd as Dr. Isaac Herschkopf in "The Shrink Next Door."Apple TV+

Paul Rudd was trending once again on Twitter recently because he is so very Paul Rudd, not to mention because he is handsome and ageless and funny and beloved and stuff.

Seeing his name reminded me of one of my little TV critic peeves, which is that Rudd never quite got his due for his impressive work in “The Shrink Next Door.” He stars with Will Ferrell in the 2021 Apple TV+ series, which is a half-hour drama (based on a true story) with some bits of humor. Ferrell is Marty Markowitz, a wealthy but innocent doormat of a New Yorker looking for help; Rudd is Dr. Isaac Herschkopf, an exploitive heel of a therapist with a compulsion to be loved and admired.


Rudd is outstanding, as he toys with his own likability in his performance. Initially, he uses his Paul Rudd charm to persuade Marty, and us, that “Dr. Ike” is a good man whose goal is to help this poor nebbish. We all get swept up in his promise not to let people use Marty, and he lets his wife and his friends think he’s performing a mitzvah by bringing the introverted Marty out of his shell. But gradually everyone can see that he is a controlling man who is drawn to Marty’s money — everyone, that is, except Marty.

Ethical boundaries between a therapist and client? Dr. Ike is not having any of that, and he inserts himself into the successful fabric business that Marty inherited from his father. He throws parties at Marty’s home in the Hamptons, and he manipulates Marty into an estrangement from his sister (an also good Kathryn Hahn). Marty behaves like a cult member as Dr. Ike isolates and dominates him, unwilling to see his beloved healer for the narcissist he truly is.


Watching the eight-episode series can be painful, as we observe a predator in action. But it’s fascinating, too, as an anatomy of a brainwashing. Rudd gives us a licensed doctor enacting a long con, a man whose love for his patient is in fact contempt. It’s a fantastic, memorable turn.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.