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Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin make for great company in ‘Kominsky Method’

November 11, 2018

Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin make for great company in ‘Kominsky Method’

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Writer-executive producer Chuck Lorre couldn’t have asked for two more savvy, razor-sharp stars to headline “The Kominsky Method,” his eight-episode show-business comedy premiering Friday, Nov. 16, on Netflix. Oscar winners Michael Douglas (“Wall Street”) and Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine”) make a splendid team in this series about the trials and tribulations and traumas of growing old in youth-obsessed Hollywood.

But Douglas and Arkin could have asked for better scripts from Lorre, the sitcom veteran whose current roster of network shows include “The Big Bang Theory,” “Mom” and “Young Sheldon.” You’re in grand company with this cast and there is no shortage of chuckles along the way, but the hit-and-miss nature of the writing keeps the series from staying on track as it heads for moments both humorous and poignant.

While the journey never is less than fun, the destination often is a letdown. In scene after scene, Lorre seems to be building toward a grand payoff packed with either telling insight or inspired lunacy. Instead, the sequence just fizzles out or falls wearily flat.

Still, at its best, and there many of those moments, too, “The Kominsky Method” reminds you of Neil Simon at his best. This is especially true in the barbed byplay between Douglas and Arkin, playing two old friends with more than a hint of “The Sunshine Boys” about them . . . or maybe an older Oscar and Felix, even though they are not roommates and even though the sloppy and neatness issues are more psychological than literal.

It’s somewhat symbolic that Douglas plays an acting coach, because “The Kominsky Method” feels like an acting exercise building toward something better, finer, more compelling, more truthful. If the need for improvement is there, so is the potential for that improvement. It’s not quite there yet, but it shows a lot of promise and is well on the way.

Comedies often come into their own in their second seasons, and this is one you hope will get the chance to build on the considerable strengths and avoid the drawbacks apparent in these eight episodes.

Douglas is our aging bundle of ego and insecurity as Sandy Kominsky, a once-acclaimed film star who now is known (if known at all) as a respected acting coach. Arkin plays Norman Newlander, his longtime agent and friend.

A typical lunch meeting for these two requires generous servings of harsh realities, uncomfortable truths and bitter disappointments. In the first episode, for instance, Norman has to tell Sandy that he’s such a great actor, he really doesn’t want to do that silly, inane network sitcom. It’s beneath him. He was meant for more distinguished things. Translation: The network didn’t want Sandy, preferring a much younger and hotter star.

When Sandy suggests Norman doesn’t need to sugarcoat things, the ever-blunt agent tells him, “I’m not sugarcoating, I’m lying.”

But they know what the truth is behind the lying. They have sinned. They have committed the unpardonable sin of growing old in Hollywood, where ageism blankets the town like smog hanging over the San Fernando Valley.

If Sandy has any doubts about ancient he is, Norman is there to remind him in no uncertain terms. When Sandy says that the woman he’s dating is half his age, Norman fires back, “Half your age is still an old woman . . . do the math.” It’s the kind of cruel math that is a Hollywood specialty.

So, as the banter continues, Lorre gets to use Sandy and Norman to toss some satiric darts at the entertainment industry that callously casts aside gifted actors (and writers and producers and keep going) who can’t erase the wrinkles, color the hair or keep off the pounds convincingly enough.

The darts are heading at worthy targets, therefore, but Lorre’s aim occasionally is off, which is surprising, considering how well he knows the territory.

Another area where the series needs work is, well, with any character not named Sandy or Norman. The supporting players, particularly the women, are ill served by scripts that don’t give them much substance or opportunity to fully develop their characters. And you know that Nancy Travis, Sarah Baker, Lisa Edelstein and Susan Sullivan could help lift this series with a little help in the writing department.

Indeed, if this were an acting exercise in one of Sandy’s classes, he’d quietly take Lorre aside, tell him how terrific it all could be, give him some notes and say, “Try it again.” By all means, give “The Kominsky Method” that second season. Try it again.

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