Spoiler alert: The following post contains spoilers regarding Netflix’s The Kominsky Method.
The Kominsky Method, which arrives on Netflix November 16, is a show built on geriatric humor — which, by the way, is a full-on brand of television. The show follows Sandy Kominsky (Michael Douglas), an aging actor who has made his career on being a stellar acting coach. He’s best friends with his agent, Norman, played by Alan Arkin, and he’s struggling with things like paying his taxes on time and finding work. He gets his prostate checked (by a chipper Danny DeVito), and he rails on his wayward students. Norman, meanwhile, grieves and considers an 11 o’clock death by suicide. The show is a portrayal of friendship, but also the perils of a fading career in Hollywood. In other words, it’s a lot like Grace and Frankie, Netflix’s other half-hour comedy about the fear of growing old, except that it’s much more focused on career. That's because, well, The Kominsky Method is about men.
Make no mistake: The Kominsky Method is a decent show. It’s a gentle rendering of post-success life. It mocks Sandy’s students without having too much disdain for young people, and it knows how to ensure that its main characters are absolutely pathetic. The jokes are good, if in a need of a little Viagra — “They got some rapper, Ludacris.” “Ludicrous, my ass. That’s bullshit!” “No, that’s his name. Ludacris.” — and the show leans into the industry’s better characters actors. (This is also something Grace and Frankie wields to its advantage, propping up people like Baron Vaughn and June Diane Raphael.) In particular, The Kominsky Method has Sarah Baker, the veteran TV actress who appeared in season 1 of Big Little Lies on its side. Baker plays Sandy’s daughter Mindy, a reasoning force amid a lot of old crybabies. Add to that list Graham Rogers, one of Netflix’s finest, who plays one of Sandy’s idiotic students. (His character invests his earnings from a shampoo commercial in bitcoin.) The whole series unfurls like a greying Thelma & Louise, suggesting that life, at least the fun parts of it, is definitely for the young.
Grace and Frankie, which debuted on the platform in 2015, is the obvious precursor. About two women forced into friendship after their husbands cheat, it engages more directly with sitcom fare. There are relationship hijinks, peyote highs, and a lot of weeping on the beach. The show put Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda together once more for what is essentially Broad City but with a few more hangups. (We can't all be as carefree as Abbi and Ilana!) The majority of the action of the show is relationship-based, not career-based. Grace is strict, but Frankie is wayward. In the later seasons, they start a business making vibrators for women of a certain age, but the drama stays squarely in the emotional category. This show, in other words, isn’t about Grace or Frankie’s characters alone, but instead about how they revolve around each other. This is a strength; in 2018, there are few relationships as fun as Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.
The Kominsky Method is Netflix’s second asset from Chuck Lorre, TV’s most formidable network hero for viewers of a certain age. Lorre’s been king of CBS for years, lording over the network with shows like Big Bang Theory, Mike & Molly, Two and a Half Men, and, most recently, Young Sheldon. He carries with him a history of bro-y television which, given CBS's recent troubles with chief executive Les Moonves, doesn't bode well for the future of his brand. For Netflix, Lorre first created the Kathy Bates-led sitcom DisJointed which, much like The Kominsky Method, felt like a network show that’d been allowed to draw outside the lines. Though Lorre hasn’t signed a Rhimes-style production deal with Netflix, it’s clear the network giant is making moves in streamer’s direction. And with this move, he appears to be broadening his horizons. The Kominsky Method is single-camera, first of all. Lorre has also said in interviews that he wanted to write a show that’s specifically about getting older.
“How [getting older] feels in terms of your body, your relationships, losing loved ones, being estranged from the culture,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “There’s so much that goes on as you watch your body decay. So that was the impetus.”
It’s interesting — and maybe a little sad — that watching bodies decay, for these characters, is mostly career-related. Career is central to this story because for men, it’s a central part of their existence. Sandy and Norman live and die by their careers by necessity, while Grace and Frankie live and die by their relationships.
Of course, as Grace and Frankie delves deeper into the lives of the characters, their careers reemerge as forces of agency. When relationships fail to provide solace, turn to career! Kominsky Method shifts in the opposite direction.
And here’s where we need the spoiler alert: Want to know what the “method” in question actually is? Sandy answers this in the final episode, after seven episodes of Norman in crisis. He’s been doggedly pursuing Norman in an effort to prevent his friend from falling deeper into the dumps. The method, Sandy explains, is just about seeing people.
“I see you,” he tells a perplexed Norman. “Do you see me?”
After a few beats, Norman lets that sink in, allowing his friend to find comfort. And that, Sandy says, is the branded Kominsky method. So yes, in a way, the show eventually winds its way back to career. After that big, juicy detour into Sandy and Norman’s personal lives, the show proves its saddest point: For older men, even their personal lives are infected with career-isms.