Thoughts on The Kominsky Method: The final season

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

Chuck Lorre, sitcom creator extraordinaire is not normally known for his subtlety.

His sitcoms are designed to be brash, obvious and funny and if ratings success is any guide – he is the creative force behind Dharma & Greg, Mom, and The Big Bang Theory, among many others – he is very good at what he does.

But thoughtful and introspective? Not two words you would ordinarily associate with his work but in the third and final season of the L.A.-set The Kominsky Method (and to be fair Mom was predisposed to some serious discussions of pertinent issues to do with addiction, regret and loss) they are on full and affecting display in a show that shows a deft touch for handling life’s less than wonderful moments.

Comedy is still very much in evidence throughout this show, in ways both hilariously obvious and quietly sweet, but it is balanced, immensely movingly at times, by some deeply impacting scenes of grief that form the emotional backbone of a season which proves quite adept at saying goodbye.

There are a lot of goodbyes to be had in this season.

Chief among them for the eponymous protagonist, Sandy Kominsky (Michael Douglas), a 75-year-old acting coach who is talented at his craft but has yet to live his dream of being a famous jobbing actor, is the loss of his dear if irascible friend, revered Hollywood talent agent Norman Newlander (Alan Arkin), a man who gave him an endlessly hard time about almost everything but who was his closest and dearest friend for over 50 years.

His loss is a body blow to Sandy, a man dealing with a great deal more than simply getting his acting students to live their thespian dreams (though that is, of course, a driving force for a man dedicated to his craft and those he teaches).

Norman’s death frames the first two episodes of the six-episode season which poignantly address, most arrestingly in the restaurant they both had endless lunches and dinners at, what it is like to have so great an emotional hour ripped into the landscape of your life.

It is horrific beyond measure, and what is admirable about The Kominsky Method is that for all its wacky, sometimes Vaudevillian kidding around, it lets Sandy grieve, properly grieve.

Its heartbreaking to break but absolutely necessary for the series to have even a gram of emotional authenticity and it turns the first half of the final season into a moving piece of storytelling.

Similarly, the back half of the season, which comes with a number of happy wrap-up incidents, is also facing down some pretty tough emotional terrain and again, Lorre gives these existentially fraught moments every opportunity to breathe, rounding out Sandy still further as an exemplary protagonist and allowing those around him like his daughter Mindy (Sarah Baker) and guest star Kathleen Turner as Sandy’s first and favourite ex-wife Dr Roz Volander, to have meaningful interactions with each other that give the comedy swirling around and through each moving moment real substance.

And for all its attendant seriousness and heartrendingly serious pauses, The Kominsky Method, is a whimsically funny show par excellence, just as apt with a pithy, witty line as it is slapstick-heavy characterisation such as that exhibited by Norman’s recovering pill-addicted daughter Phoebe (Lisa Edelstein) and her Scientologist-obsessed son Robby (Haley Joel Osmont) who go to uproariously funny lengths to get a bigger slice of Norman’s estate which comes in at around $USD160 million.

Sandy is the executor of the estate and controller of the trust which has Phoebe and Robby’s inheritance securely contained within – Norman didn’t trust them to spend their money wisely and through the third season, we are given multiple, highly-amusing examples of why this was the case – and he watches on in stunned bemusement as they come up with ever more outlandish schemes to get their hands on more of the cash.

It’s grasping and greedy but funny and both Edelstein and Osmont play the characters just so, and in so doing, allow to see the tough non-nonsense side of Sandy that convinced Norman his legacy would be in safe hands.

Also delightfully diverting is Mindy’s boyfriend Martin Schneider (Paul Reiser), a man who’s over double his beloved’s age – he is closer to Sandy than Mindy in years lived on this earth – but is a sweet and caring ex-public school teacher who spends much of the final few episodes trying to convince his girlfriend to spend some of her considerable inheritance from Norman.

The Kominsky Method succeeds as a piece of enthralling, affecting and immersive comedy because it intuitively understands that humour is always present in some form, even in the darkest moments of our lives.

It knows that people behave oddly at funerals – the eulogies and conversations Sandy has with people at the wake are worth the price of admission alone – and that in the middle of mourning the loss of someone special that something good can happen; it also understands that the realisation of a dream, and Sandy is the recipient of a doozy that fills the final episode of the series with richly affecting poignancy, brings it with joy and laughter but also tension and fear and a bucketload of nervousness.

It gets life in all its messy, contradictory glory and it allows that contrariness to make its presence felt throughout, which is why tears and hilarity sitting by life-shocked jowl doesn’t look that strange in any of the episodes.

It makes perfect sense that you no longer love someone as a partner but care for them deeply as a friend, that you can live your brightest, most vivid life right when it might be coming to a close and that the only certainties any of us have in this carnival horror show of existence is that everything can go horribly wrong and life-affirmingly right almost simultaneously.

It’s possibly not fair to think of sitcoms as unable to raise some serious weighty matters.

Many shows like Frasier, Mom and a great many others have waded into the serious pool and done with aplomb, offering up some truly impressively storytelling that is undoubtedly funny but darkly so and befitting life narratives which are always an often uneasy mix of the two.

The Kominsky Method though feels like even a laudatory step beyond this, gifting us with a gritty but vulnerable, caring and wisecracking protagonist in Sandy who knows he’s flawed but who wants to do better, and does, as the series, and in particular this season progresses, a superlative cast of supporting characters, each capable of being funny and serious as needed, a life-realistic mix of the wonderful and the woeful, and a mindset that knows life can be truly terrible but also innately, brilliantly good and hopeful too.

Is that a lot to assign to what is in many ways a more elevated, dramatic sitcom? In a vacuum possibly, but The Kominsky Method deserves all the accolades and more, allowing you to laugh and cry, and more importantly, to come to grips with how bizarrely contradictory life can be and that we need someone as good and flawed as sandy Kominsky, to really make sense of it all.

Posted In TV

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