I knew Netflix’s new half-hour comedy series “The Kominsky Method” was in trouble when I found myself using the definite article to describe its characters.
The pill-popping rehabbing daughter. The grumpy Hollywood agent. The grizzled, boozing has-been who drives everyone crazy but, doggone it, they love him anyway.
The latter would be the eponymous Sandy Kominsky, acting teacher, failed ladies man and reluctant inductee into the prostate cancer club.
Once characters lock in as stereotypes — as too many do in the series’ eight-episode debut season, which launched on Nov. 16 — it’s hard for a show to soar, and this one doesn’t.
That’s a shame, as “The Kominsky Method” could have much to offer. Set among L.A.’s congenitally loopy, mostly-Jewish showbiz community, there’s no end to the lampooning possibilities.
The storylines, which follow Sandy from his classroom (full of adoring acolytes) to his sketchy dating life to his kvetchy symbiosis with his agent, may not break new ground, but do provide serviceable sitcom material.
Then there’s the cast and crew. Creator and head writer Chuck Lorre is this generation’s sitcom king, with “The Big Bang Theory,” “Mom” and “Two and a Half Men” among the jewels in his crown.
The Kominsky cast, too, is stellar, led by Oscar winners Michael Douglas as the title character and Alan Arkin as his best bud-agent Norman, who is grieving the recent loss of his wife. Secondary roles also are well cast, most notably Lisa Edelstein as Norman’s dissolute adult daughter and Nancy Travis as Sandy’s on-again-off-again student-cum-girlfriend.
Given that pedigree, the show can’t help but serve up some laughs, most often when Douglas and Arkin team up as deli-ready curmudgeons growing older but not always wiser. The pairing should appeal to Jewish viewers. Whether enjoying a liquid lunch at Hollywood’s famed Musso & Frank Grill or tooling around in the car, both characters settle into the sardonic banter common among battle-weary American Jewish men of a certain age. Arkin, at 84, is a marvel, as deft as ever in his comic delivery.
Alas, the show never quite hits the comedy sweet spot routinely reached by HBO’s “Barry” or FX’s sublime and underappreciated “Better Things,” also about a divorced L.A.-based actor and acting teacher.
The blame starts at the top. Douglas, 74, has been great in dramatic lead roles (“Basic Instinct,” “Wall Street” and ”Traffic” come to mind), but TV comedy seems an unnatural fit for him. He’s just not that funny, no matter how often his character pees on his girlfriend’s hedge or fake cries his way out of a $300,000 income tax bill.
And even if Douglas were funnier, his character is repellent — a tax cheat, a leech, a lousy boyfriend, an unappreciative father and friend.
And, as presented, he’s not much of an acting teacher. I found myself wondering why serious acting students would pay Kominsky top dollar to do acting exercises I remember doing in my 9th-grade drama class. Stanislavski he’s not.
I’m guessing “The Kominsky Method” is essentially autobiographical. True, Lorre is no washed-up acting teacher but one of the most successful artists in Hollywood. Yet the interior world of aging, questioning, perennially dissatisfied Jews (like the fictional Kominsky) is one Lorre probably knows well.
Kominsky is Lorre’s alter ego, a flesh-and-bone version of the vanity cards Lorre has written and broadcast in the final credits of his other shows. There’s nothing wrong with this, but Lorre’s private musings, which obviously mean so much to him, don’t guarantee a winning comic narrative for viewers. While he may be peerless in the realm of the standard network sitcom, Lorre has not yet mastered the more nuanced, free-form, HBO-style comedy genre.
Some shows need time to find their groove, and it would be foolish to bet against Team Kominsky after only eight episodes. If the Netflix bosses order a second season, I’m hoping to see more comic madness to the Method.