Chuck Lorre is not the type of guy you would expect to go off method. Deemed the “King of Sitcoms,” Lorre has risen to popularity under widely popular, three-camera laugh track productions including “Two and a Half Men,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Mom.” His technique has worked so well, it’s a wonder why he would ever stray from the course. Yet in Lorre’s new 30-minute Netflix sitcom, “The Kominsky Method,” he does just that.
“The Kominsky Method” follows the hypermasculine yet endearing friendship of washed-up acting coach Sandy Kominsky (Michael Douglas, “Ant Man and the Wasp”) and his blasé agent Norman (Alan Arkin, “Going in Style”). Shot in single-camera fashion with a lack of blinding lighting and laugh tracks, the show immediately distinguishes itself from Lorre’s usual MO. In one of the first interactions between Sandy and Norman, Sandy asks his friend and agent about landing an acting job on a sitcom.
“Those little pischers on ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ they’re making a million bucks a week!” Sandy tells Norman. “Sandy, it’s pabulum; it’s crap. You’re a world-famous acting coach. What’s it gonna look like, you doing a network sitcom?” Norman responds. It’s a moment that could appear to just be an old man trying to help his struggling friend realize his worth. But then: “So I didn’t get the part,” Sandy says. “No,” Norman answers. In a funny little reference to Lorre’s other work, this exchange sets the dynamic for the remainder of the show: two old men who will complain endlessly about the world around them while desperately longing to be a functional, meaningful part of it.
This idea of duality is one that sews a common thread between every scene of “The Kominsky Method.” The show’s first two episodes center around the death of Norman’s fiery wife Eileen (Susan Sullivan, “Castle”). It’s heartbreaking — a clearly crushing blow to Norman who, unlike his three-time divorcee friend Sandy, has been with his wife for decades. Despite the tragedy, Eileen’s funeral is a celebration of fun and comedy MC’ed by Jay Leno and boasting performances of “Lady Marmalade” from Patti LaBelle and “The Way We Were” from a drag queen dressed as Barbra Streisand.
These incredible moments in “The Kominsky Method” make the lackluster ones even more disappointing. This is Lorre’s first venture into the “sadcom” realm, and the rookie mistakes are evident. Douglas and Arkin deliver exceptional performances as men dealing with all of the drama of aging, and their chemistry is contagious. Yet so often the show gets lost in the bond between these two men that it borders on the crime of self-obsession. “The Kominsky Method” focuses a bizarre amount on Sandy’s prostate problems, a truly normal issue for men of his age, but uses Norman’s daughter Phoebe (Lisa Edelstein, “The Good Doctor”) and her struggle with addiction as a punchline.
“The Kominsky Method” has room to improve, but at its core the show is funny, touching and a welcome and much-needed departure from such “pabulum” shows as “The Big Bang Theory.” Most of the show’s viewers are probably not newly widowed men or has-been acting coaches, but “The Kominsky Method” is crafted in such a way that this doesn’t matter. The trials and tribulations of being human is something everyone can relate to. As Norman says, “It hurts being human. It hurts like hell. And all the exploring in the world doesn’t make that hurt go away because being human and being hurt are the same damn thing.” This may be so, but “The Kominsky Method” shows viewers all they need is a friend going through the same hurt as them — one to tease and yell at and laugh with, and just maybe that hurt will go away.