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AFI Fest 2018: Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin in Netflix's The Kominsky Method

Sandy Kominsky (Michael Douglas) is three-times divorced and struggling to find guest-starring roles on TV as he hits old age. His agent and best friend, Norman (Alan Arkin) becomes widowed after 42 years in the first episode. Together they struggle to get through life in Chuck Lorre's new Netflix series about Hollywood has-beens and wannabes: "The Kominsky Method." Three 30-minute episodes premiered on Saturday night at the TCL Chinese Theatre gala to an appreciative audience.

Not far from the red carpets, galas and numerous awards ceremonies, are small schools and black box theaters crammed into small buildings meant to be shops or offices. Actors who had a slight brush with fame—a role in a cult film, a flash-in-the-pan once-in-their-lifetime TV or movie role—trade in on their brief glimmer in the spotlight. They cannot do so they teach.

Sandy Kominsky is one of those people and Norman is his long-suffering agent who knows how to gently lie, but their relationship has left behind most of the dissembling insincerity. There's not a lot of exposition, but the details of their relationship gently unfolds. 

The episodes are titled like chapters in a book. The first episode, "Chapter 1, An Actor Avoids," introduces Sandy's class with a side trip to Hollywood's famous Musso & Frank, a restaurant opened in 1919. The place is famous for its mature wait staff, hearty food and history as a Hollywood deal-making den. Sandy gets disappointing news about a sit-com audition and worse news about Eileen (Susan Sullivan), Norman's wife. Sandy's daughter Mindy (Sarah Baker) chides her father who typically avoids seeing his dying friends. Sandy eventually does visit Eileen and he makes her a promise that sets other things into motion. Later, he brings one of his students, Lisa (Nancy Travis) to meet her.  

Over the next two episodes ("Chapter 2, An Agent Grieves" and "Chapter 3, A Prostate Enlarged"), Sandy will help Norman arrange a spectacular funeral and Sandy's daughter Mindy and Lisa will talk about prostate problems until Sandy visits a doctor (Danny DeVito). Political correctness gets challenged in Sandy's classes for which Sandy blames Bill Clinton because "when blow jobs ceased to be sex, our civilization was over." Norman's disaster of a daughter, Phoebe (Lisa Edelstein) makes a grand entrance.

Dressed as Sandy in a rumpled dark corduroy jacket that layers over a shirt and a t-shirt that shows with a scarf as a florist, one can imagine an alternate universe Michael Douglas, one that starred with Karl Malden in "The Streets of San Francisco" (1972-1977), but never got into the movies nor won an Academy Award ("Wall Street"). 

Lorre with Bill Prady skewered the geniuses at the California Institute of Technology and JPL-NASA with some jabs at Hollywood hopefuls via Penny (Kaley Cuoco) in "The Big Bang Theory," but "The Kominsky Method" is a gentler, poignant comedy that portrays another subculture of Los Angeles but with a closer relationship with reality. The three episodes screened deftly balance the melancholy and humor of two old chums dealing with old age and their daughters in a less gimmicky updated version of Neil Simon's "Odd Couple" or a less grumpy version of that other, later Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau pairing. Seeing these two Oscar-winning actors play off each other is like an acting workshop in itself. 

"The Kominsky Method" premieres on Netflix this Friday. 

Jana Monji

Jana Monji, made in San Diego, California, lost in Japan several times, has written about theater and movies for the LA Weekly, LA Times, and currently, and the Pasadena Weekly. Her short fiction has been published in the Asian American Literary Review.

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