Better Late Than Never: The Kominsky Method
Another Brilliant Netflix Showcase for Acting Legends
Among their many, many other virtues, many of the comedies that air on Netflix have the benefit of providing work to some of the greatest acting legends in history. I have already mentioned just how many acting titans have appeared on Grace & Frankie, aside from the four leads. Rita Moreno received some of the best notices of her life for her work on Norman Lear’s reimagining of One Day at a Time. Carol Burnett has been working on a variety series. And The Kominsky Method, the Golden Globes choice for Best Comedy Series, has offered employment to two of Hollywood’s greatest actors, Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin, who were already recognized for nominations by the Globes and the SAG Awards and are likely heavy favorites in the Emmys voting, which is fast approaching. It took me a while to get around to actually looking at this series that I’ve heard great things about for nearly six months, but it’s definitely worth the time.
Douglas plays Sandy Kominsky, a former Hollywood legend who can’t get work anymore, and is now trying to impart his years of wisdom into increasingly shallow potential actors. It’s pretty clear that he has been getting diminishing returns for awhile, and we see this in a scene where a student does a monologue from Steel Magnolias in the exact style of Sally Field, who he tells her gently he coached. Another students asks for how to get motivation for a shampoo commercial. Sandy does not want to admit he used up yet, mainly because its very clear he has focused all his energy in actor at a complete shutout of everything else. He’s had three failed marriages and his relationship with his daughter Mindy (Sarah Baker), who runs his acting workshop with him has always been shaky. It’s pretty that the only real friend he has is his agent Norman (Arkin), and even though there’s a back and forth of abuse between them, they clearly care about each other.
The major impetus for everything in the series starts after Norman’s wife, who has been suffering from cancer for a long time, finally dies, and Sandy finds himself in the position of trying to take care of him. So far, that has been mainly been dealing with the preparations for the funeral, which his wife went into great detail in preparing, asking for Patti Labelle to sing Lady Marmalade, Jay Leno to emcee, and Barbara Streisand to sing ‘The Way We Were’ (“I don’t think Streisand does funerals” Sandy says). Much of what Norman is dealing with is a combination of grief and outrage. He doesn’t want to tell his daughter, who never visited her mother even on her deathbed, and shows up right at the key part of her father’s eulogy. But it’s clear that he feels truly lost, and he will need all the support he can get.
Sandy, in the meantime, has been going through the gentle dance of dating one of his students — Lisa, a fiftyish divorcee (the always reliable Nancy Travis). When he tells his Norman’s wife about that, she says she’d like to meet her, which leads to her taking to her to the hospital on their first date — after she has passed. Sandy recovers from this by inviting her to the funeral: “We went to the hospital on the first date, a funeral seems a natural progression.” And she does seem willing to go along, and seems delighted at the bizarre appearance of Norman’s daughter.
The series is engaging, witty, and often moving, so it may surprise some that Chuck Lorre, the man behind such randy comedies as Two and a Half Men and Mike and Molly is the main writer. But Lorre has been capable of showing great depths in his recent work: the soon to conclude Big Bang Theory was remarkable in the way it allowed most of its characters to grow emotionally over its long run, and Mom has always been superb in the way it managed to find laughs in alcoholism, gambling addictions, and family dysfunction. The Kominsky Method isn’t quite there yet, but it is much in that vein in many of the early episodes: Norman goes insane at a bereavement director when he suggests cardboard for a coffin, and Sandy blames Bill Clinton for the depth of our culture: “Once blow jobs stopped being sex, we were doomed as a civilization.) It’s also refreshing to see that Douglas, who is remember by a full generation of movie goers as being so intense, was once and is still a very natural comedian. And it’s good to see him, in his seventies, getting to cut loose again. It’s no surprise to see Arkin, who was enjoying a late in life renaissance before this, demonstrating how good he is at melding comedy and tragedy.
This is a much more polished work than so many of the Netflix series have been: it took Grace and Frankie a full season to finally hit its stride, and it took half a season for GLOW. The Kominsky Method isn’t quite yet a classic, but its definitely one of the better old fashioned comedies you’ll find anywhere. And in a world where the rules of comedy seem to change every thirty seconds, this is a good sign that were not as bad off as a society as Sandy thinks.
My score: 4.75 stars.