This week, Apple TV+ will debut its newest original, The Shrink Next Door. The series stars Will Ferrell as Marty Markowitz and Paul Rudd as Doctor Ike Herschkopf, a patient and therapist who become trapped in a manipulative relationship that pushes all boundaries. The story is based on the nonfiction podcast of the same name that detailed the decades long con.
I recently had a chance to talk with The Shrink Next Door’s showrunner and executive producer Georgia Pritchett, a writer on series like Veep, Succession, and The Thick of It, to discuss the new series, podcasting, and her career of writing about immoral characters.
Paste: The Shrink Next Door is based on the podcast of the same name, what drew you to this story initially?
Georgia Pritchett: I just loved the podcast, I listened to it. And then I was so fascinated by the story, I listened to it again immediately. I had no idea they were going to make it into a TV show, so I was really excited when I heard they were. You probably know that Will [Ferrell] and Paul [Rudd] were both competing for the rights to the story, because they both loved it so much, and wanted to be in it. So when they kind of joined forces and invited me on board, it was like a dream come true. Because, you know, it’s a fascinating story. And then with, you know, the most incredible cast attached, so it was just a wonderful opportunity.
Paste: Among podcasts, the true crime genre has blown up in popularity. I was wondering how you would fit the story of Marty and Ike into the greater genre of true crime?
Pritchett: Yeah, I agree. It’s kind of a true crime, but it’s not a whodunnit. And because I knew some people watching the show would have listened to the podcast, and some weren’t, I wanted to write it in a way where it works, however much you know, or don’t know, before you watch it. My feeling was, rather than make it hinge on what happens, that to kind of blow that in the first 10 minutes and say “This is what happens by the way, it goes really badly wrong.” And instead let people enjoy finding out how that happened, and why that happened. And to me, the sort of psychological story beneath that was what was fascinating, and what I kind of focused on when adapting it.
Paste: One thing that I ended up really enjoying about the series is how it takes place over the decades, like a time capsule from the ‘80s to the modern day. As a writer, how was it to go through the past few decades and revisit all these time periods?
Pritchett: It was really fun. There was a lot to get in. And I think our art department and costume, hair, and makeup did an incredible job of recreating that world in a really authentic way. And the music, all of that helped us sort of track the time—as well as kind of being fun and great to look at, it was a sort of really important part of the show in terms of grounding the story and making it feel authentic. And in terms of the story, I spent the first four episodes trying to get the audience to get to know the characters and the world to feel invested in them and in their relationship. And then the next four episodes really kind of gallops through the years, in a way I think we can all feel; sometimes suddenly it’s 10 years later, like what happened? And I think that’s certainly reflected Marty’s experience when I spoke to the real Marty, that he sort of had this sensation of waking up and almost 20 years have past. So in the second half we kind of play with time a bit; it feels a bit disorientating and a bit confusing, and that’s kind of to reflect Marty’s experience.
Paste: Was there one decade in particular that you enjoyed going back to?
Pritchett: Well, as I grew up in the ‘80s, of course, I loved revisiting that. And I still seem to have a pretty ‘80s haircut. So I didn’t feel that I stood out anymore, because everyone had big hair. I love the music of that time, but of course, I’m British. So it was really interesting to me to see the clothes people were wearing over here and the cars they were driving. And that was really exciting, it was like going back in time. I enjoyed that a lot.
Paste: You started talking about the element of “you blink and 30 years have gone by,” because the show has this interesting kind of tonal balance. It’s very funny, and you have a lot of comedic actors, but then it’s also deeply disturbing underneath. How do you reconcile these two very different tones into one cohesive show?
Pritchett: I think I’m always drawn to stories that have darkness as well as light. And I think that’s more relevant to the human experience as well. There’s a version of this that could have been an out and out comedy [with] such funny actors. But I felt that would do a disservice to the story and that people might end up laughing at Martin or laughing at Ike—I didn’t think that was fair to either of them. But similarly, I didn’t think just a pure drama was quite right. This was like a bromance, these two guys kind of fell for each other and really hit it off. And I was saying to Will [Ferrell] and Paul [Rudd], at the beginning, it’s a bit like When Harry Met Sally, it’s kind of ‘80s, New York, you just click, you’re having a great time, you’re having fun, you’re laughing, you’re hanging out. So that was an important thing to portray, to show people why they were both so invested in each and how important they were to each other. And also how easy it is to get sort of drawn into a relationship and kind of stay in it, even when things take a turn for the worse or become unhealthy, because it was great. You’re waiting for those great moments to come back.
Paste: This show continues a theme that’s in a lot of your work, which is kind of humanizing these morally dubious to straight up despicable, evil characters. So how do you feel like the character of Ike fits into this theme? And what was it like taking on this new character, especially being based on a real person?
Pritchett: Yeah, it was. It was really fun. I think, as you’ve spotted, I do like writing for that kind of person. But I think the worlds of Veep and Succession, politics and business, have very specific cynical worlds, very cutthroat worlds. And to strip all that way and write something that was just about a relationship and the emotional journey these two men go on was both exciting and really scary. And the people in Veep and Succession have not really grown or changed, whereas this was a story where people grow and change, whether for better or worse. That felt very exciting to me, and I wanted to really sort of show these two men, all the great things about them, all their difficulties and how they got themselves entangled in this kind of troublesome way, and what it took to get out of that
Paste: I’m curious, it’s very easy to see Ike as an evil character with humanity. Do you at all see Marty as a human character with some secret evilness inside himself?
Pritchett: I think I suppose I tried. I made a definite decision to not try and think in terms of sort of good and evil but to think in terms of these two damaged men. Marty is anxious, is scared about where he is, he’s bereaved, he’s just split up from someone, he’s struggling at work. He’s a guy with some issues, and he needs help. But also to think, [though] Ike has some issues, he has lots of great qualities. He’s a great therapist, and he’s a great guy. But there’s a lot of pain there, and he has his own… giant hole in his life that he is striving to feel, and he doesn’t know how to and nothing is ever enough. And to me, that’s really sad, and really tragic and not evil. It’s something that feels worth exploring and trying to understand.
Paste: There is this warm depiction of like Jewish culture throughout the time periods of the show that I don’t often see. What it was like to portray New York Jewish culture on screen in this way?
Pritchett: It was really fun. This may amaze you. I’m not from New York and I’m not Jewish. But I filled my writer’s room with people who are from New York and who are Jewish. And that was invaluable. This is certainly part of Marty and Ike’s experience, but it’s not a story about Jewishness in the way that Unorthodox was, it’s a story about a relationship and about a relationship going very wrong. So I’m glad that I had those voices in the room so we could make sure it was authentic and treated with the respect it deserves. But also, ultimately, this is a story that as we said at the beginning, that could happen to anyone so it felt like a really universal story about love and friendship and trust. I hope we’ve done that justice.
Paste: With the recent trend of podcasts being adapted to TV, do you think audio and both nonfiction and fiction and TV are going to continue to be intertwined in the future?
Pritchett: I think definitely, I hope so. I love podcasts. And I think they’re such a brilliant source of all these different authentic voices and stories that we would not normally hear. And the more we can tell stories from a range of people from a range of backgrounds and cultures and experiences, I think the more enriched we’ll all be, long may it continue.
Paste: This seems like it’s a very busy year for you. You had a memoir that came out, you have Succession back on the air, and now you have this. So with The Shrink Next Door coming out towards the end of the year, how do you think this work fits in with where your career is at right now?
Pritchett: That’s a great question. I think I’ve been really lucky with the people I’ve worked with. And I think, as you get older, and also with the events in the world and the last few years, I think it becomes more and more important to me to write things that say something and that have a message. [To] tackle difficult subjects that other people might not want to tackle. So I hope to continue to do that. I started in comedy, everything I do will have comedy in it because I love it. And because it’s a great [thing] if you can make someone laugh their defenses lower, and then you can hit them with some powerful moments or message that they weren’t expecting. It has more impact, because because you’ve you’ve also made them laugh.
Paste: Is there any inkling in you to return to this limited series in an anthology way? Or do you feel very satisfied with how you ended this?
Pritchett: Yeah, I feel pretty satisfied. I feel we’ve told the story well, and now we should let everyone carry on with their lives.
The Shrink Next Door premieres on Apple TV+ on Friday, November 12th.
Leila Jordan is the TV intern for Paste Magazine. To talk about all things movies, TV, and useless trivia you can find her @galaxyleila
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