Tuesday, January 22, 2019

"A Netflix Comedy"

You know what a network sitcom is like?

It’s like a dog on a chain.  You venture too far afield, and it’s,


“Stay within the parameters.”  You challenge them even a little, and


So you’re Chuck Lorre, with network super-hits like The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men under his belt, yearning to spread your sitcomical wings. 

Lorre comes up with The Kominsky Method.  A workable “Buddy Comedy” – two over-seventy compadres, Norman Newlander, a big-time theatrical agent and client, Sandy Kominsky, a revered acting coach whose professional career failed to totally catch fire. 

With Kominsky, Lorre shoots for “geriatric verisimilitude.”  You’ve got old.  You’ve got cancer scares.   You’ve got death.  He shows his proposed project to the network?    

NETWORK EXECUTIVE:  “Chuck, we dearly love you and respect you.  But not this.”

“This” is definitive “‘Agghhhh!’ Country.”

Trolling for “product”, Netflix proactively puts in a call.

“Mr. Lorre.  We are enormous fans of your work.  You got anything the networks won’t touch?”

Enter:  The Kominsky Method on Netflix.

Richer and grittier than what commercial networks are structurally able to provide.  They have to worry about sponsors, so no “lingering unpleasantness.”  Stick to reparable squabbles and “First Dates From Hell.”

Alan Arkin (as Norman) is a reliable joy to watch.  But Michael Douglas (as Sandy), it turns out after streaming the show’s first-season episodes, is a phenomenon.  Why?

Because he’s changed.

Character actors (like Arkin) do not substantially age.  Essentially, character actors are born old.  Think:  Thelma Ritter and Walter Brennan.  Over the decades, these stalwarts offer the same reliable performance, only wrinklier.  For them, the… I hate to say it but I will… “Ravages of Time” proves no career-threatening obstacle.  More often, they look better.

Michael Douglas was a demonstrable superstar.  (Fatal Attraction.  The American President)  Not to diminish his performance as Sandy, but he can substantially just stand there, allowing the inevitable “Ravages of Time” to act for him.

To his credit, Douglas vulnerably “Delivers his age”, triggering empathy for his unselfish performance. 

Still, it’s a sitcom, derived from a prolific “Sultan of Sitcoms.”

And it shows.

Random example:

Sandy fears he has prostate cancer.  His urologist says, “You got a couple cancer cells floating around but something else will probably get you before they do.” 

Viola!  The traditional “Easy Letdown.” 

“Dead” but not now.

Wait.  That’s all of us – “Dead but not now.”

Nitpicky small potatoes.  Everyone’s happy.  Roll the credits, and we’ll see you next week.  (Or with streaming, almost immediately.)

You know the telltale signal of substandard writing?

When writers are transparently too easy on themselves.

Another random example:

You know why Norman Newlander’s a spectacular mega-agent?  Because we see him behaving with the brilliance and dynamism of a spectacular mega-agent?  No.  Because we don’t.

Norman Newlander’s a spectacular mega-agent because Chuck Lorre wants him to be.  No corroborative evidence.  He just is.

Another telling example and I’ll go before somebody yells “Sour grapes.”

In the seventh of the eight available episodes, after six shows where he ministers to Norman’s numerous needs after Norman’s longtime wife passes away, Sandy finds himself in IRS difficulty.  (To the improbable tune of 307,000 dollars.) 

A rescuing super-rich Norman bails his pal out with a generous, debt-settling check.  But he adamantly insists on “No strings” – like scheduled repayments – to humiliate Sandy in the process.


What unpardonable sin has Sandy committed to earn this retributive payback?

Judged by the previous episodes I watched, none. 

That’s not supportable writing.  

That’s Chuck Lorre going,

“I am telling this story!

And with Netflix’s complicit behavior,

He does.

Bottom Line:  You know the old saying,

“In the world of the blind, the one-eyed man is King”?

The Kominsky Method is the one-eyed man of televised sitcoms.

“Marking on the Curve” the show merits its positive kudos.  But digging beneath the surface – which The Kominsky Method attempts but only fitfully succeeds –

It needs work.

By the way, the preceding is at least part of the reason my career ended. 

I’d say stuff nobody wanted to hear.

Here, I can say anything I want.

To no ameliorative effect,

But I can say it.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Lorre posted a vanity card last year that suggested that his network producers run away screaming whenever he mentions doing something that isn't a multi-camera project. That may be more relevant than the content of KOMINSKY METHOD, especially given that MOM has tackled some serious and sad plots (a young alcoholic who died of it; grief when Christy's father died; etc.). DISJOINTED, a Lorre project from last year, was also single-camera; it didn't come together for me.

So far, I've only seen the first episode of KM after your pal Ken Levine raved about Alan Arkin's acting, so can't comment on the rest.


Anonymous said...

Astute observations, Earl. I watched all of them and came away slightly underwhelmed. Yes, I love Alan Arkin. But much of it seemed undercooked and I would often get the feeling Lorre didn't quite know what to do with his characters. They hung around a lot together because... they're in a show together. The deceased wife also wore out its welcome for me. I would like to think there is a more sublime, clever, less on the nose method of telling this story than the Kominsky one.