The parade of Hollywood stars (of a certain age) continues in Netflix’s The Kominsky Method. If you really want to know what his new show is all about, imagine the pitch: “It’s Barry meets Grace and Frankie!” Oscar-winner Michael Douglas stars as Sandy Kominsky, an acting coach trying to navigate aging, love, and his own improbable return to acting. It’s actually a perfect role for Douglas, and he’s blessed with excellent support from fellow Oscar-winner Alan Arkin. While the series itself has its ups and downs, the two performances are enough to ultimately recommend Chuck Lorre’s comedy series.
First, the good. Kominsky really soars when Douglas takes center stage in his acting class. Much like HBO’s Barry before it, the acting class setting seems to truly inspire Lorre and his writing team. Douglas’s Kominsky has multiple monologuing opportunities that the actor delivers beautifully. His actual scenes of coaching the budding class of actors work well too, particularly a scene in the pilot in which he coaches a student (Emily Osment) through a less Sally Field interpretation of Steel Magnolias. These scenes, to me, are the heart and soul of the series because they’re genuinely funny and simultaneously compelling in their embracing of contemporary topics.
On the down side, Lorre dips his toe into the Grace and Frankie pool with ill-fitting subplots about aging, urination issues, and prostate exams. This is where Alan Arkin is mostly employed as his Norman, Sandy’s agent, loses his wife by the end of the pilot. The next few episodes deal with the aftermath of that event and with Norman trying to cope with his loss. There are many touching scenes, for sure, but it feels incongruous with the rest of the series. Arkin is a sharp-witted, caustic actor who won an Oscar for these qualities in Little Miss Sunshine. His role here is down beat and depressing. Arkin delivers the goods, but he deserves much better material.
Overall, The Kominsky Method works best if you, like me, are a fan of Michael Douglas. It’s great to see him effortlessly sink his teeth into this well written, fully realized character. Even through the lesser aging comic sequences, Douglas glides through the material with charm and star charisma. Despite winning an Oscar for Wall Street and giving dozens of great performances, Douglas always resonated more as a movie star than a great actor.
Yet, here on the small screen, he’s given the chance to embody something of an ordinary person. He’s not playing a character who represents the latest social injustice or hot button issues (see Fatal Attraction, Falling Down, Disclosure, etc). Here, he’s more the Wonder Boys Michael Douglas – a character actor whose talents extend far beyond his reputation. With Kominsky Method, he may be given the chance to evolve the performance into some of the best work he’s ever done.
The Kominsky Method drops on Netflix Friday.