Like many people, I watched the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday night and bore witness as The Kominsky Method, a show I’d barely heard of, won for Best Musical or Comedy TV Series, over The Good Place, a show that makes me laugh, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which I am positive would not make me laugh. How? My next question: What is The Kominsky Method?
I began by going directly to my expert on all things popular culture starring Michael Douglas: my dad. “Did you watch The Kominsky Method?” After texting him, an hour or so passed without a response. Perhaps my dad was ignoring me. “Yes, some episodes,” he finally replied. My dad typically does not pass up an opportunity to tell me about a movie or TV show or book he loves. Did he count himself among the people who did not understand The Kominsky Method’s appeal? Did he even like the show? “Yes, I really liked the acting,” he responded over text. A promising point in The Kominsky Method’s favor, but a generic one.
Before settling down to research the show, I told my dad I was on a journey to figure out what The Kominsky Method is about and why it won at the Golden Globes. “Is there anything I should know about it?” I asked. “It’s a comedy series about aging,” he texted. “That’s why it doesn’t resonate with a young audience like your peers.” Dad burn? Here’s where the second-most knowledgeable source on Michael Douglas and subjects I know nothing about came in: Google. A few websites touted headlines like: “What Is ‘The Kominsky Method’ Even About?” People noted that the show was created by Chuck Lorre and “follows an aging acting coach, played by Michael Douglas.” Variety reported that Lorre said, “I wanted to write about getting old and all that that entails.” Lorre praised Netflix for not caring about ratings and being “totally supportive” of his vision.
Lorre also said Douglas’s “coming-of-old-age story” should be “cynical or crass about his work as [an] acting reacher,” for it mirrored his own experience of struggling to become a musician and finding TV instead. (Fun fact: Lorre produced both Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.) The Hollywood Reporter called The Kominsky Method a “wild outlier” for Netflix and a “comedic ode to men of a certain age,” which doesn’t say much beyond the fact that it’s a funny show about older men.
When I finally sat down to watch The Kominsky Method, the first episode did not live up to my lower-than-average expectations. Surprisingly, a lot happens. First of all, Michael Douglas is The Kominsky Method. He stars as an acting coach named Sandy Kominsky, who in his early career taught Faye Dunaway and others (and potentially slept with them), and teaches a group of young, diverse aspiring actors the Kominsky Method of acting. “That’s why he’s Sandy Kominsky, and we are not,” one kid says in the first episode.
The worst dialogue on this show comes from the students, who largely serve as vehicles to explore issues of political correctness. At one point, a white student does a monologue for a black man, angering the other students. Later, a black woman student does the same monologue for a gay man and is accused of being homophobic. Another student writes and performs a pilot about a woman’s sexual relationship with her half-brother, which she says she wrote in a weekend and is based on her life. Sandy never weighs in on these issues—or any others, really—in part because his personality seems to be Reformed Tough/Bad Guy, and he mostly just encourages his students in their craft, with only occasional yelling, and in part because he has prostate problems and runs out to pee every so often.
In Episode 1, we also learn Sandy is afraid of death and is reluctant to visit Eileen, the terminally ill wife (Susan Sullivan) of his longtime agent, Norman (Alan Arkin) because of said fear. Here, I thought, Oh, this will be the dominant subplot of the series. But no, Sandy visits her in the middle of the first episode and closes that door. Not to worry, as many other doors about his old age are opened.
Minutes into Episode 2, nothing in particular kept me going except the quest to determine what drew people to the show. Had I been watching for laughs, I would have noted that I had yet to let out more than a half-chuckle, although I could hear all the spaces where my dad would be laughing. They were mostly quick jabs between Norman and Sandy, or between Sandy and his mostly dumb students. Midway through Season 1, Sandy semi-resolves a major life crisis when he gets the results from a test for prostate cancer. (His prostate, and sometimes Norman’s prostate, were the subject of perhaps the majority of the jokes in Episodes 1 through 5.)
This had been one of the biggest unresolved questions in the first half of the series, along with: 1) Will Sandy keep going on dates with Lisa, a student of his in her 50s who asks him out to dinner, and 2) What will Norman do when his daughter (Lisa Edelstein!!! aka Dr. Cuddy from House) with a substance abuse problem returns home. Sandy’s advice: Continue to love her. Having gotten some closure, I stopped there. I had my answer.
The Kominsky Method is about the life of two older white guys, one whose work I’m fond of (Alan Arkin). They struggle with health problems and family problems and relationship problems. In other words, it’s about the passage of time and the shit of life. Not enough to grab my attention. Sandy tells his students that they’re all the same inside, the same electricity lighting up different bulbs, but my experience suggests differently. The show doesn’t grapple with the fear of death for more than 20 or so minutes. Some of the wisecracks hit the mark, but it was hard to escape the feeling that I’d seen this before: two men grumble at each other onscreen, mostly with deadpan delivery and without betraying any sense of inner turmoil. Are these men holding back their true emotions? Unless the show offers a glimpse of that, the witty banter is just that—nothing more, nothing less. The emotional stakes of the series remains foggy. But at the least, it grew on my dad: he liked, he says, “the mix of sarcastic humor and closeted sentimentalism,” and the fact that friendship drives the show.