Monday, June 28, 2021

A Human Being Prepares: Learning the Kominsky Method

I’m sad to see the demise of The Kominsky Method, the limited comedy series created by TV veteran Chuck Lorre and starring a top-of-his-game Michael Douglas. The series ran for three years on Netflix: thanks to streaming, I’ve just now watched the final episode, which left the core characters, as usual, both happy and sad.  I use the word “demise” intentionally, because The Kominsky Method—though ostensibly about making it in Hollywood—has a lot to say about death. Chuck Lorre, whose past credentials include such mega-hits as Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, is now approaching 70. Michael Douglas is 76. Both of them know, I assume, about the bodily frailties and psychological embarrassments that come with the territory. That’s why the show jokes wryly about prostate problems and other indignities connected with an ageing body, at the same time that the central character is still as ambitious, as horny, and occasionally as childish as ever.

 In its opening episode, The Kominsky Method starts with a death. The last season starts with a death too, one that fans were hardly expecting, but one that leads into perhaps the most subtly hilarious funeral of all time. The handling of the death of a loved one is high among the series’ great themes. All too aware of his own mortality, Douglas’s character strives to do the right thing. Others, though, seem to see the loss of a close relative as an opportunity: in the last season, Haley Joel Osment (no longer the boy who once saw dead people) views the passing of a family elder as a chance to line his own pockets while burnishing his credentials as a Scientology initiate. Then there’s Kominsky’s former wife, played by the always-welcome Kathleen Turner, who has acted opposite Douglas in several terrific films. She helps embody the motif of reconciliation that Lorre has said (see below) is the great thrust of the final season. As both a medical doctor and a patient she has her own complex relationship to matters of mortality, as well as a salty tongue that will not allow Death to be proud.

 But The Kominsky Method is also fundamentally about Hollywood: its egos, its traditions, its winners and losers. The Douglas character, Sandy Kominsky, is an actor who—having belly-flopped in Hollywood—remakes himself as a teacher of acting. Anyone who’s ever taken a drama class knows what the typical acting guru is like: someone who pontificates at length, implying that he (or she) would have been a great star if not for the indignities of the system. In seasons 1 or 2, some of my favorite moments have come from the eager acolytes who hang onto Kominsky’s every work, sometimes taking his advice to ludicrous extremes. Like – when he urges students to be bold in their acting choices – a young white woman decides to emulate Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire or take on a Black male role. Naturally, in a series with this sort of pedigree, there are guest appearances by some genuine Hollywood stars. No less than Allison Janney and Morgan Freeman stop by the Kominsky studio. Janney tartly undercuts Sandy’s basic acting philosophy, while Freeman seems most intent on selling his own on-line services as an acting coach. For those who are part of what Hollywood lovingly calls “the industry,” the in-jokes are priceless.

 I wouldn’t dream of closing without mentioning the octogenarian Alan Arkin, who graces the first two seasons in his role as Kominsky’s agent and best friend. Arkin and Douglas together are comedy gold.



No comments:

Post a Comment