There’s a delicacy to this Netflix series. It’s simultaneously gentle but jarring, charming but tragic, and uplifting while bitterly sad. At its heart, it is a story of twilight years, focusing on the titular character, Sandy Kominsky (Michael Douglas), as he supports his friend and former agent, Norman Newlander (Alan Arkin), through loss and grief. Sandy was once a successful actor but has since fallen out of the spotlight and taken to coaching acting with the support of his daughter Mindy (Sarah Baker). It’s a show that deals with tough moments in these characters’ lives but does so in such a way that you can’t help but smile in the end: it will always find the optimism that survives.
I first turned to this series simply for Alan Arkin’s involvement. It was exactly what I was expecting and what I wanted. In Norman, he plays a character perfectly suited to his style of humour. He is witty and suffers no fools. Perhaps he is abrupt at times but, in all of his harsh criticism of those around him, you can see the love that underlies it all (though I’m sure he would never confess such a thing).
His relationship with Sandy is the best thing about the first two seasons of The Kominsky Method but, unfortunately, Arkin does not return for the final season. It’s a big loss for the third season but there is a lot to enjoy before that point. Sandy and Norman have a unique way of standing by each other and an understanding that goes beyond their differences. They have had different fortunes throughout their lives financially, romantically and with their health, but both have enough shared experiences to comprehend the struggles of the other.
In the opening episode, Sandy is visiting Norman while his wife, Eileen (Susan Sullivan), is fighting for survival against cancer. It sets the tone for the entire series and the ending had me rather conflicted. I wanted to smile at all of the charming moments that I had just witnessed but the final note of sorrow rang on as the credits rolled, in such a way that it was almost haunting.
It is a powerful show in this manner. Episodes often end on unexpected moments but not cliff-hangers that feel artificial and inserted for dramatic effect. The first episode is the perfect set-up but what follows is just as good and carries on where this episode left off.
Across the seasons, Sandy has to deal with his own health concerns, tries to build a relationship with a woman from his acting class, supports Norman in every way he can while dealing with his grief and looks out for his own daughter as she finds a relationship of her own. It becomes a story of complicated family relationships and bonds formed between people. Sandy has his own family to look out for while also being an integral part of Norman’s and a very influential figure in the lives of his acting students.
There are some excellent guest appearances in the first two seasons from the likes of Elliot Gould, Danny DeVito and Kathleen Turner. Characters are what make The Kominsky Method great and each new addition adds something wonderful and often hilarious to the mix.
While the third season is quite different to the previous two, as it has to deal with the departure of Alan Arkin from the series, it is still a fitting conclusion to the story. As Sandy’s ex-wife, Kathleen Turner’s role increases significantly and she almost takes the place of the friend who serves as Sandy’s harshest critic but biggest fan, just like Norman had been. In the same vein as the first seasons, the final one sees success alongside tragedy and balances it all perfectly.
Each episode of the series is labelled as a chapter and it seems appropriate. There are only twenty two and, at thirty minutes each, they are very easy to watch but will leave a huge impact on viewers. It is rare but I feel that this is a series I will return to multiple times in the future. It has so many great moments that it is impossible to retain them all and it would be a joy to discover them once again.
The Kominsky Method is not a show I have heard spoken about very much but I really feel it should be. It is, as I described it at the start of this review, a delicacy, finding that perfect balance between joy and tragedy. I haven’t even gone into many of the supporting characters as there simply isn’t enough time. Sandy’s acting class often only get short scenes but still establish themselves as well-developed characters; Norman’s daughter and grandson are the embodiment of family drama; Mindy’s boyfriend, who is quite surprising at first, becomes a regular who adds another brand of foolish charm to the series.
There is so much more to discover in this series than I can cover here so do yourself a favour and give The Kominsky Method the shot it deserves. It’s a story that concludes beautifully and will leave a lasting impact no matter who you are.
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