POP CULTURE WITH DENNIS GREENE: THE KOMINSKY METHOD

A Cure for the “End of Golf Season” Blues

By Dennis Greene 

It is that time of year.  The colorful leaves are falling from the trees, the sun is setting early, there is a raw, chilly wind, and the golf course is closing.  I have ceased my exercise routine, begun overeating, rapidly put on 15 pounds, and have a constant desire to nap. Either I am suffering a bout of fall melancholy or a long dormant urge to hibernate is about to erupt.

While recently lounging on my living room couch, trying to decide whether to make a black and white frappe or take a nap, I clicked on Netflix and was confronted with a promo for The Kominsky Method, a new sit-com created by Chuck Lorre.  Now Mr. Lorre’s creations have  been serving as my antidepressant  ever since 1997 when I discovered Dharma and Greg, his fourth TV series. That was followed by Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, Young Sheldon, and Mom. I also feel Chuck and I have a special connection through a mutual friend, though that connection is somewhat attenuated. In 1986, during Lorre’s guitar playing and songwriting phase, he wrote Deborah Harry’s hit single “French Kissin” for her Rockbird album. By an unbelievable coincidence, twenty years earlier, when I was a student at Lafayette College and Debbie was at nearby Centenary Junior College, she dated one of my fraternity brothers and we hung out together.  That means there is only one degree of separation between Chuck Lorre and me. He is almost a friend of mine.

The Kominsky Method started streaming on Netflix on Nov. 16. The series co-stars Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin as two aging friends in their “later years,” dealing with the rapidly changing world of Los Angeles while their own respective lives, bodies, and minds are deteriorating.  Douglas plays Sandy Kominsky, a washed-up actor but skilled acting teacher, and Arkin plays Norman Neulander, a successful talent agent and Kominsky’s long-time friend. Surprisingly, Douglas and Arkin had never met or worked together before, but Lorre brought them together, and the two Oscar-winning actors, proven masters of their craft, fit together perfectly. They are a pair of “buddies” to rival Newman and Redford, Lemmon and Matthau or the more recent Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin of Frankie and Grace.

The Kominsky supporting cast is also superb. Nancy Travis, whom I have admired since Three Men and a Baby,  is Douglas’s slightly younger (but, at 57, still “mature” ) love interest; Susan Sullivan, the veteran star of Falcon Crest, plays the ghost of Norman’s deceased wife; Lisa Edelstein, recently a regular on House, plays Norman’s drug addicted daughter; and Ann-Margret is cast as a lonely widow with her eye on Norman.  For me, the high point of the first season was Danny DeVito’s brilliant portrayal of Sandy and Norman’s effervescent urologist.

Many of the subjects dealt with in Kominsky are dark or sad, which is not unexpected in a show about the “twilight years,” but the humor and honesty pervading the writing and the acting enable the viewer to easily get through the tough spots without trivializing the real issues.

I binge watched all eight episodes in one weekend and was again left with a void in my life, but one that was easily filled. There have been several successful Lorre series I had missed completely, so I used the power of Xfinity’s “on demand” function and found all 87 episodes of Cybill,  Lorre’s third series creation which aired during the four years preceding Dharma and Greg. The show starred Cybill Shephard, who I remembered only as the stunning, naked teenager who dived into the swimming pool in The Last Picture Show. In the Cybill series she plays a struggling 40ish actress with two likeable but contrasting ex-husbands, two daughters and an acerbic best friend, played by the brilliant Christine Baranski, who earned an Emmy for her Cybill role. Baranski more recently starred as Diane Lockhart in The Good Wife, and currently appears as Leonard Hofsteder’s mother on the Big Bang Theory.

Last night, as I watched the first two episodes of Cybill, I realized why I so enjoy Chuck Lorre creations. Though he got his start writing for Roseanne, he left quickly, citing “creative differences,” and from then on, all of his characters (except maybe Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men) have been fundamentally nice, decent people. Lorre understands flawed characters involved in complex human interactions and enables us to see the humor in it all.

But most importantly, Lorre “gets” friendship. The relationships portrayed by Douglas and Arkin in Kominsky, Shepherd and Baranski in Cybill, the entire cast of The Big Bang Theory, and Allison Janney,  Anna Faris and the support group on Mom all are uplifting and just make the viewer feel good. This isn’t a brilliant insight on my part. Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld clearly showcased the appeal and entertainment value of friendship in their hugely successful sit-com, and to make sure none of us missed the point, they named it Friends.

Not only does Lorre create wonderful friendships on screen, but he also seems adept at forming them in real life. The number of actors who seem to reappear in his work suggests that  he forms lasting relationships with the talented people he encounters. Actors he met on Roseanne decades ago, like John Galecki, Sara Gilbert and Laurie Metcalf, as well as more recent discoveries like Christine Baranski, appear in his projects today. I suspect Chuck Lorre would be a good guy to hang out with.        

My depression is over, and I’m again ready to face the trials of late middle age. Cheer yourself up and binge watch The Kominsky Method, or watch the series more patiently if you are so inclined, and extend the enjoyment. It’s “Friends” for our generation.

“BOLLI MATTERS” feature writer Dennis Greene

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.  More recently, he’s been exercising his writing muscles–in the Writers Guild and as a member of the “BOLLI Journal” staff.

 

4 thoughts on “POP CULTURE WITH DENNIS GREENE: THE KOMINSKY METHOD”

  1. I too fell in love with The Kominsky Method and binge-watched all eight episodes within one week. I can’t remember when I’ve last seen a show that so successfully mixed serious topics such as grief over losing a life partner with lighter ones like the banter between Kominsky (the Michael Douglas character) and his new “girlfriend.” I think I would happily watch anything starring Alan Arkin, still thinking of his role as a sailor in The Russians Are Coming whenever I see him on screen. Dennis and I don’t always have the same taste in film or TV, but I’m right with him on this one.

  2. I too recently found and finished Kominsky Method (felt I had to watch it because I have a friend since college named Kaminsky; close enough spelling!). Thought Dennis perfectly captured the feeling of the show. Funny and sad, and often a bit too familiar for comfort. Douglas and Arkin are terrific! I would add that Susan Sullivan more recently starred in the TV series Castle. There are also cameos by Elliot Gould, Jay Leno, and Patti LaBelle. And ‘effervescent’ is a great adjective for Danny DeVito’s proctologist character!

    1. Jerry, thanks for the comment, and also for pointing out that Susan Sullivan starred in Castle. I loved the show and saw all the episodes, but didn’t recognize Susan, perhaps because she played a very alive and active character on Castle, in contrast to a dead person in Kominsky.

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