Netflix’s The Kominsky Method is a bizarre blend of elements. It’s a comedy with a single-camera format and broad multi-cam jokes — there are moments in which you can almost feel a pause as the camera waits for a laugh track that never blares. The subject matter is heavy — mortality, suicide, drug addiction, cancer — but it’s confronted with bleak jokes about ballooning prostates and boner pills. It features an Academy Award-winning cast — Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin are the leads — but it comes from Chuck Lorre, the guy behind The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. There’s a scene in the second episode, I think, that best epitomizes the entire series: Jay Leno delivers a eulogy at a funeral that sounds more like a roast. It’s broadly funny, but it’s also dark and strangely touching.
It doesn’t always work, but it doesn’t not work, either. It’s essentially the next step in the evolution for Chuck Lorre, from tackling alcohol addiction with Allison Janney in the better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be Mom to The Kominsky Method, in which Lorre seeks to distance himself from his typical oeuvre, widens his scope and adds a dose of pathos, but never really strays from the bread-and-butter brand of humor for which he is best known. It just sounds a lot better coming from Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin, not to mention Nancy Travis (So I Married an Axe Murderer), Sarah Barker (Louie), and Lisa Edelstein (House).
Douglas plays Sandy Kominsky, a revered acting teacher who never quite succeeded as an actor. Late in life, he’s washed up. He has prostate problems, debt problems, and relationship problems — after three marriages, he’s worried about dying alone. Meanwhile, his best friend and agent, Norman (Alan Arkin), just lost his wife and the love of his life to cancer, while Norman’s estranged daughter (Edelstein) is looking at her eighth stint in rehab.
Kominksy, meanwhile, is also dating Lisa (Travis), a divorcée and student in his acting class. She’s terrific, but Sandy can’t get out of his own way as he endeavors to navigate a relationship with a woman with a surly teenage son. Danny DeVito also plays Sandy’s proctologist in a small, scene-stealing role, notable not just because DeVito is fantastic but because it reunites Douglas and DeVito again, and the chemistry is still there.
I want to say that Kominsky Method better than it sounds, because it is. But also, it’s not. The target demo here is older people — the Grace and Frankie audience (and I’m a little offended that Netflix has been so eager to push it on me) — and the sense of humor is of the old-school, yelling-at-the-clouds, occasionally politically incorrect variety in which the characters view the rest of the world as if from a distance rather than engaging in it. And yet, it’s not that easy to dismiss, either (unlike that terrible Kathy Bates pot sitcom on Netflix, also from Lorre). It’s Wonder Boys Douglas — charming, difficult, depressed, drunk — while Arkin is a delightfully incorrigible grump, and the two together are magnificent. Travis and Barker are also very good in their supporting roles, though I have no idea what to make of Edelstein’s character, a middle-aged teenager who still hasn’t gotten her act together. It’s not that the cast transcends the material; it’s that the cast makes the material sound funnier than it has any right to be.
In other words, I’m not recommending it. But I’m not not recommending it, either. It’s not necessary viewing, but it’s a quick-and-easy binge (8 half-hour episodes) that mixes genuinely funny jokes with some painfully cringe-worthy ones.
Header Image Source: Netflix