Four-time Emmy-winning producer and writer Georgia Pritchett has delivered some of her finest work during the pressurized atmosphere of the pandemic. Coming off the Best Drama Emmy win for Succession in 2020, Pritchett, who also produced the long-running HBO comedy series Veep, penned her now critically acclaimed book, My Mess Is a Bit of a Life: Adventures in Anxiety.
One might imagine that’s enough productivity to fit into the gap between the season three and season four writer’s room of Succession. Instead, however, Pritchett found herself writing, producing, and show-running Apple TV+’s The Shrink Next Door.
The series follows the stranger than fiction true story of an anxious fabric factory owner, Martin “Marty” Markowitz (Will Farrell), who takes his sister Phyllis’s (Kathryn Hahn) advice to seek out a therapist. Unfortunately, Marty’s search leads him to the offices of Dr. Issac “Ike” Herschkopf (Paul Rudd), who, over 27 years, both manipulates and entrenches himself into Marty’s life and drives an irreparable wedge between Marty and Phyllis.
Based on Joe Nocera’s hit podcast on Wondery, The Shrink Next Door came together after Rudd and director Michael Showalter pursued the rights to adapt the podcast for television, and Will Ferrell soon joined the project. Once the Anchorman costars agreed to join forces, they sought out Pritchett to helm the project and filmed in Los Angeles during the pre-vaccine fall of 2020.
Pritchett spoke with Awards Focus about traversing 27 years of Marty and Ike’s relationship in The Shrink Next Door, returning to the Succession writers room, and finding the inspiration for My Mess Is a Bit of a Life: Adventures in Anxiety.
Awards Focus: How did you first hear about the podcast, and what was the process of getting both Paul and Will onboard?
Georgia Pritchett: I listened to the podcast, and I loved it. In fact, I was listening to the final episode when my agent rang and asked if I was aware of The Shrink Next Door. I said, “Yes, now let me hear how it ends!”
It’s really amazing how it came together. Paul Rudd had heard the podcast and wanted to play Ike and was seeking the rights to adapt it with Michael Showalter.
Meanwhile, Will Ferrell had heard it and also wanted to get the rights to play Marty. So, they came together to do it and decided to bring me on board. Then we took our meetings, and Apple seemed to really get it. I didn’t want to approach the story as a victim and a villain. To me, it was a love story that goes horribly wrong.
AF: Was there a unique challenge to writing this series as opposed to your work on ensembles like Succession or VEEP?
Pritchett: With VEEP and Succession, I carved out a nice niche for myself writing about unredeemable, deplorable people, but those stories were always set in the cutthroat world of business and politics. With this project, it’s an exciting challenge to strip all that away and write about a relationship and two people’s feelings.
People have asked if it felt any different writing for real people, and I did feel a sense of responsibility, but I feel the same sense of responsibility for Roman Roy (laughs). So, in that sense, my approach was the same.
AF: With twenty-seven years of material, it’s fascinating to see how you’ve designed the eight episodes — specifically with the first four episodes covering a very tight, chronological timeframe and then the final four playing with time and jumping through the years. Can you delve into your process for those decisions?
Pritchett: I wanted the audience to go on the journey that Marty (Ferrell) goes on, and we should take our time in the first four episodes, as you say. In doing so, we feel charmed by Ike (Rudd) and swept off our feet in the way that Marty is… he’s kind of improved Marty’s life instantaneously.
We’ve all had difficult or unhealthy relationships, and I think it’s really hard to work out what’s wrong when you’re in the middle of it. There are red flags, but we talk ourselves out of it. You see that with Ike, and when Marty gets concerns or doubts, Ike does something great again.
In the back half, it’s capturing the feeling that the years are suddenly rushing by, particularly in episode six. Then he wakes up in the hospital in episode seven, and Marty has to disentangle himself from that twenty-seven-year relationship.
I wanted to take two full episodes to show the breakup of Ike and Marty because you don’t get out of something that long and complicated so quickly. It takes a lot of unpacking, and the heartbreaking performances of Will and Paul are the soul of that.
AF: Kathryn Hahn brings a real force to the screen as Marty’s sister Phyllis. How did she come into the fold once Paul and Will were on board?
Pritchett: All three of us wanted Kathryn for the part of Phyllis and we were ecstatic when she agreed. We had a screening with the real Marty and Phyllis in attendance in New York. Both of them were very nervous, knowing that it would be very easy to make them look stupid.
There was this lovely moment after seeing the first two episodes when they both turned around with big smiles. And then the real Phyllis saw Kathryn in the audience and ran over to hug her, and there were the two Phyllis’s hugging. They were both crying, and the whole evening was very emotional for all of us, having the feeling that we’ve been true to the emotional journey of this tragedy.
AF: Was there any pressure to finish The Shrink Next Door in time for Succession’s writer’s room?
Pritchett: We finished in the Succession room just before the first-ever lockdown in 2020. Then the filming was pushed for something like nine months, so I was able to do a virtual writers room for The Shrink Next Door, and we filmed it pre-vaccines with very careful protocols.
We’re actually just returning to the Succession writers room this coming week, and it’s been quite a long time, and I’m excited to get back to it.