Netflix’s eight-part comedy series, The Kominsky Method, created by Chuck Lorre and starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin, chronicles the perils of aging in the entertainment industry, which values the vitality, spunk and effervescence of youth.
Douglas portrays Sandy Kominsky, a washed-up actor who ekes out a living as an acting coach in Los Angeles. Arkin plays Norman Newlander, Kominsky’s agent, closest friend and chief executive officer of a successful talent agency. Their relationship is at once caring and contentious.
In the first episode, Norman’s beloved wife, Eileen (Susan Sullivan), dies. But before she succumbs to cancer, she implores Sandy to look after her husband, a gruff, cynical, no-nonsense person whose social skills could be better. Sandy readily agrees, setting the stage for a late-life romance, prostate and family problems, tax troubles and the expression of existential woes.
By turns serious and wryly humorous, The Kominsky Method is consistently entertaining. It’s worthy of attention by virtue of its fine screenplays and superior performances from Douglas and Arkin.
Sandy, looking somewhat dishevelled, believes that “acting is an extension of living.” Faithfully hewing to this motto, he falls for his oldest student, Lisa (Nancy Travis), an attractive single mom in her mid-50s. This makes her about 20 years younger than Sandy, who’s been married three times and has one daughter, Mindy (Sarah Baker).
Norman is a skeptic. “Being human and being hurt are the same damn thing,” he says after his wife’s death.
The pair go back a long way. As Sandy reminds Norman, he introduced him to Eileen, whom he had a crush on. At Eileen’s funeral, Norman delivers a touching eulogy, describing her as a beautiful, smart and funny woman who eventually agreed to sleep with him.
At the shiva, the rabbi informs Norman that he contravened Jewish law by having forgotten to cover the mirrors in his house. Nonplussed, Norman says he’s an atheist sort of Jew.
Eileen’s passing brings Norman’s estranged daughter, Phoebe (Lisa Edelstein), to the city. Being an alcoholic and drug addict, she’s an embarrassment to Norman. Their rocky relations bring Sandy into the picture. Sandy, meanwhile, is coping with a medical ailment common to men of his age: he trickles rather than pees normally. Norman arranges an appointment with his urologist, Dr. Wexler (Danny De Vito). Sandy’s main concern at this point is whether the removal of his prostate will dull his sex drive.
Norman is not exactly a spring chicken either. He wakes up mornings wondering what organ in his body is functioning improperly. He’s also having hallucinations, imagining conversations with Eileen. “I like to believe she’s looking after me,” he says.
By mid-point in The Kominsky Method, Sandy suggests that he and Lisa should they take their platonic relationship to an intimate level. “You amuse me,” she says. Shortly afterwards, she leads him up the stairs to her bedroom. Since Sandy takes people for granted, he ultimately upsets Lisa.
Thanks to his connections, Norman finds Sandy a gig in a television commercial, but he doesn’t cooperate and the job goes to another actor (Elliott Gould).
In quick succession, Sandy learns he owes the IRS $300,000 in taxes, and Norman checks Phoebe into a detox center. Driving back to Los Angeles, Norman admits he’s unfulfilled and is contemplating suicide. A little later, Norman confesses he’s grateful for Sandy’s friendship. To prove it, he offers to pay Sandy’s IRS bill. Sandy wavers.
As the series reaches its denouement, Norman has hallucinations about Eileen, his mother and his Minsk-born grandmother, who talks to him in Yiddish. “I may be losing my mind,” he says.
Who knows? We’ll surely find out if The Kominsky Method is renewed.
It should be.