How Paul Rudd’s likeability aides his versatility on ‘The Shrink Next Door’

Photo+courtesy+of+Apple+TV+Plus

Photo courtesy of Apple TV Plus

Dan Buffa, Special to the Jewish Light

The only thing more impressive than Paul Rudd’s ruthless inability to age is his versatility on camera. “The Shrink Next Door,” currently in its first season on Apple TV Plus, is proof of that. But the 52-year-old Jewish actor became a cinematic everyman a long time ago.

He may be Ant-Man to you, but he was Josh to me–at least at first. Back in 1995, Rudd made his big screen debut with Amy Heckerling’s “Clueless.” Co-starring Alicia Silverstone as the woman who finds her heart melted by Josh, Rudd shined.

But People magazine’s 2021 Sexiest Man Alive didn’t immediately find his star on the Walk of Fame. It took 20 more roles — small roles in shows or movies –before audiences started remembering him.

Hello, “Anchorman,” which catapulted Rudd into movie theaters in an unforgettable role. Playing the charismatic yet dim-witted TV reporter Brian Fontana, Rudd showed an unabashed knack for comedy.

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What “Role Models” displayed was the ability to efficiently portray an edgier form of comedy. Rudd bypasses vanity and any shred of self-doubt on screen, but never relies on the physical aspect alone to get the laugh fest started. The head of the class or an ensemble social, the actor always seems to come across as likable.

He’s also been able to channel a dark side in a handful of roles–including Netflix’s underseen thriller, “Mute.” Starring Alexander Skarsgaard as a mute bartender looking for his girlfriend in a futuristic society, Rudd played a sinister player in that world. It was the first time I didn’t know if a moviegoer could trust his character.

His role as Dr. Ike in “The Shrink Next Door,” shows that Rudd’s antagonistic side has shades and layers. Starring opposite Will Ferrell (walking a similar comedic-drama tightrope), the series is about two men who play a certain role in each other’s lives. Some of their interactions move into the intrusive side, which is followed by manipulation and mistrust. Created by Georgia Pritchett — a writer on HBO’s “Succession” and “Veep” — the show empowers the audience’s adoration of the two leads.

In other words, Apple TV Plus knows we love Rudd and Ferrell, so they twist the knife willingly. Hey, twist away. The thing that makes performers like Rudd special is the ability to change it up. Long retired is the need for an actor to bind to one person only on screen. Even iron-jawed Jason Statham entered the comedy fray six years ago with “Spy.”

With each role he takes, Rudd reminds us he can do it all. Romantic lead? Done. Comedy lead? “I Love You, Man” proved that. Dramatic lead? “The Shrink Next Door” scratches that off the list.

Just look at Rudd’s character on the show. If Gordon Gekko was Jewish, he’d look like Dr. Ike. Deceiving smiles bolstered by an insidious mind, he doesn’t just help Ferrell’s fractured Marty; he takes advantage of his emotional state. But the show never gets too comfortable in genre foreplay, keeping audiences on its toes. Rudd’s work keeps the mind thinking.

Meanwhile, he’s setting up shop on Netflix, too. After you finish “Shrink,” binge “Living for Yourself” and “The Fundamentals of Caring,” a pair of signature Rudd performances. In other words, zany and unpredictable yet always interesting.

While the world wonders if he’s really 52 (more like 32), Rudd continues to impress–no matter what size he is on screen.

A new episode of “The Shrink Next Door” premieres this Friday on Apple TV Plus. The next “Ant-Man” adventure is in post-production and is slated for a 2023 release.