Sep 13

“Tiny Beautiful Things”: The Couples Therapy (Spoilers)

Tiny Beautiful Things on Hulu is a fictional adaptation of advice columnist Cheryl Strayed‘s 2012 book Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. (For additional background, see this previous post about the film Wild based on Strayed’s solo hike of the Pacific Coast Trail.)

As the series Tiny Beautiful Things begins, Clare (Kathryn Hahn) has not yet fulfilled her writing ambitions; also, she has not yet become “Dear Sugar.” She carries tremendous grief about her mom who died from advanced cancer, can’t connect with her teenage daughter, and is separated from her husband Danny (Quentin Plair) but pursuing couples therapy with him.

In Episode One we see that Clare “doesn’t trust their therapist, Mel, who wonders aloud whether Clare’s instability is due to latent anxieties about her decaying beauty as she approaches 50” (TV Line). While this statement seems out of left field and representative of a biased attitude toward Clare that gets repeated down the line, the style of this therapist (Tijuana Ricks) with Danny seems different, possibly even flirtatious. The latter has actually been acknowledged by both Hahn and Plair (Decider).

Beyond this, however, there’s a lot we don’t get to understand about the couples therapy dynamics.

For example, although it’s briefly mentioned early on that Danny has met with Mel separately, we don’t know in what context or how many times. Did Clare choose not to attend a session or more? Was Danny in individual therapy with Mel before it became couples therapy? Or maybe he still has separate sessions? Whatever the case, perhaps there were appropriate reasons for separate sessions, just as there may have been inappropriate ones.

A Google search reveals that many viewers are confused about what is happening between Danny and the couples therapist. Many wonder if Mel is a bad therapist, period. Question categories include:

  • Why is Danny seen (by Clare) chatting with Mel in her office after their session has ended? (A major stressor for Clare, by the way, who only witnessed this inadvertently.)
  • Does Mel pick on Clare unnecessarily? Is Danny Mel’s “favorite”?
  • Why did Mel single Danny out by sending him that column (that led to his realization that he needs to end his marriage)?
  • Is it appropriate that Mel then gave him a special after-hours individual session? He clearly requested it, but is this the right course of action?
  • Is Danny “Johnny,” the married sender of the letter to Sugar about falling in love with someone—and is that someone Mel?

It’s left for viewers to draw their own conclusions. As a viewer myself who’s also been a couples therapist, I do have a few thoughts.

  • The dynamics in the couples sessions do seem out of whack and biased towards Danny. (But you didn’t need me to tell you that.)
  • The dynamics outside of couples sessions do seem inappropriate. If couples therapy is going to proceed fairly, each party should be informed if separate talks are occurring with the therapist.
  • Mel did show a clear bias or favoritism by sending the column to Danny only. Why not share it with both of them, if at all?
  • It follows that the “emergency” session with Danny didn’t have to happen if he hadn’t received this special treatment from Mel. Moreover, I think it’s implied that Clare is not aware of this happening.
  • If Danny has fallen for Mel, she likely has contributed to this. And if something more intimate is happening between them, it’s highly inappropriate and unethical on Mel’s part as a therapist.
Nov 17

“The Shrink Next Door”: Wrong Therapist

When it comes to finding the wrong therapist, there’s “wrong” as in not the best match, and then there’s “wrong” as in unethical and/or criminal behavior on the part of the shrink. It’s the latter that is the theme of the new fact-based Apple TV+ mini-series The Shrink Next Door starring Paul Rudd as Dr. Isaac (Ike) Herschkopf and Will Ferrell as Marty Markowitz, the client who had the misfortune in real life of choosing this psychiatrist. Despite the comedic talents of these stars, this is not really a comedy but a tragicomedy.

Another key character is Marty’s sister Phyllis (Kathryn Hahn), who’s apparently responsible for encouraging Marty to seek therapy but who then becomes estranged from Marty because of Dr. Ike’s control.

The Truth Behind The Shrink Next Door

Herschkopf, per Dave Itzkoff, New York Times, was ultimately “ordered in April to surrender his license to practice in New York after a committee convened by the State Health Department found him guilty of multiple professional violations” against not only Markowitz but others too.

How bad was it from Markowitz’s point of view? Kai Green, Parade, reports that he told the New York Post a couple years ago that he’d felt like he was in a cult. “He took over my life very quickly…It was one ethical violation after another.”

Markowitz had no reason to suspect Dr. Ike would be like this; he was well-known on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, counting Gwyneth Paltrow and Courtney Love as two of his clients. Paltrow even attended a party at Markowitz’s home, reportedly. The story came to light when Bloomberg columnist Joe Nocera moved to the Hamptons and was invited to a barbecue at the house next door by someone who he thought was the gardener. Meeting the host, ‘Dr. Ike,’ Nocera was invited back for another get-together, where the good doctor insisted on having a picture of Nocera to add to his pictures of celebrities like Brooke Shields and OJ Simpson. However, Nocera ultimately discovered that the man he thought was the gardener, Martin Markowitz, was the actual homeowner—even though Dr. Ike acted like he owned the place. And that’s just the beginning of the shocking truths Nocera ultimately came to learn about the ‘shrink next door.’

Nocera went on to do a podcast about this true story. Additional information about Markowitz’s case has been reported by Debra Nussbaum Cohen, Forward.com:

New York State’s Department of Health, in its decision, found 16 specifications of professional misconduct – from fraudulence to gross negligence and gross incompetence as well as exercising undue influence and moral unfitness. The decision was based on records and testimony from three of Herschkopf’s patients. Markowitz is ‘Patient A…’

Markowitz says that he is ‘much happier now’ than when he was under Herschkopf’s care. ‘It’s my 40-year ordeal. It was 29 years under his power and 11 years seeking justice. I finally got it.’ What matters most is that ‘I got justice. That’s what I wanted.’

The TV Series

Kristen Baldwin, ew.com, describes the essence of Dr. Ike’s destructive actions:

Using manipulation, mind games, and precision-guided guilt, Dr. Ike inveigles his way into his patient’s business affairs, and even his grand summer home in the Hamptons…At first, therapy seems to do Marty some good, as Dr. Ike encourages him to ‘grab the reins’ to his life and stop living in fear of conflict. But it’s all in service of a larger plan: Herschkopf operates like a one-man cult, slowly alienating Marty from Phyllis, his loyal employees, and anyone else who suggests that the shrink’s methods are suspect.

Dave Nemetz, tvline.com: “It’s almost like What About Bob? in reverse, with the therapist becoming attached to his patient like a parasite.” (See my previous posts about What About Bob? here and here.)

Watch the trailer below:

A second trailer reveals more about Marty and his sister’s rift:

Sep 07

“She’s Funny That Way”: Another Inappropriate Therapist

The cast of Peter Bogdanovich‘s comedy She’s Funny That Way (2014) includes Jennifer Aniston, who’s garnered a significant amount of praise for her role as an inappropriate therapist.

A brief synopsis of the plot from Alonso Duralde, The Wrap:

Izzy (Imogen Poots) tells reporter Judy (Illeana Douglas) all about her crazy climb from call girl to famous actress, thanks to director Arnold (Owen Wilson, still in ‘Midnight in Paris’ mode), who has a habit of giving escorts enough money to change professions. Little does he realize that Izzy’s next audition in her newly-launched acting career will be for his own Broadway show, opposite his wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn, playing a more sympathetic character than usual) and lothario Seth (Rhys Ifans), who carries a torch for Delta and who witnessed Izzy coming out of Arnold’s room the morning after their night together.

But wait, there are more subplots. Jessica Kiang, Indiewire:

  • In her call girl/muse persona, Izzy enraptures an elderly judge (Austin Pendleton), who hires an equally aged private detective (George Morfogen) to follow her (love the throwaway gag that the detective agency’s motto is the forlorn ‘We’re never too busy’).
  • This gumshoe (the film is dotted with archaic slang) just so happens to be the father of the Broadway show’s writer (Will Forte), who also falls for Izzy, despite dating hard-ass therapist Jane (Jennifer Aniston), who is the judge’s analyst.
  • And Izzy’s. Delta and Gilbert have an ongoing flirtation, though Gilbert also patronizes Vicki’s (Debi Mazar) escort service, at one point hiring a delightfully dim-bulb Lucy Punch.

Unfortunately, this star-studded movie has generally been panned. A couple reviewers’ slams of She’s Funny That Way:

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly: “She’s pretty much a turkey, actually…”

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “It’s a zany sex farce, less like a 1930s screwball comedy than like one of those faux-naughty comedies from the mid-1960s, and it’s as phony as those movies, without contact with real emotion or even with recognizable human behavior.”

The Shrink: How Unprofessional! Then Again, It Is a Farce

Robbie Collin, Telegraph, calls Jane “the world’s least sympathetic, least discreet therapist.”

Guy Lodge, Variety: “[Aniston] gleefully fashions Jane as a sociopathic psychotherapist to rival Dr. Fiona Wallice…(‘I’m not judgmental,’ she snaps to one terrified client who has just confessed a crippling romantic fixation, ‘but that’s just stupid.’)”

Still Want to See the Trailer?

In this preview of She’s Funny That Way you’ll get a pretty good idea of the various complications as well as the unacceptable-if-this-were-real-life therapist behavior: