Men Growing Old
A review of Netflix’s The Kominsky Method.
Posted Feb 16, 2019
You don’t want to watch this show if you are a young man. Which I am not. Except of course if you are trying to make sense of your father, grandfather, uncle, (male) boss and others of the same vintage. If as a young man you decide to tune in, you need not worry since, as I recall, they have an extraordinary capacity to deny what’s likely ahead in their senescence.
The indignities of aging for men include: enlarged prostates; evaporating libidos; aching and inflamed knees, backs, hips and shoulders; an accumulation of losses, with their mounting grief (for wives, partners, and dear friends, to name a few); failing hearing and eyesight; and, not to forget, senior moments where a name (or more) eludes previously functioning cerebral circuitry. For men (only talking about men here), there also often is a loss of standing and value, professionally and even in a family. Oy. Not a pretty picture. As has been said, “getting old is not for sissies.”
But there are benefits, such as they are: For some, wisdom and perspective. Social Security and Medicare. For others, lower ticket prices at movie theaters or a seat on the bus or subway. Being a grandfather is huge, if a man gets that blessing.
Yet, for all the tribulations men will face, there is one universal balm, the antidote to the diminishment and misery of aging: Humor. Levity. Comedy is like manna from heaven. That is the best of medicines, which The Kominsky Method serves up, again and again, in eight episodes, all fewer than 30 minutes (short enough for any man with a prostate problem). I would add the dialogue genially tosses in a variety of old-fashioned advice, from how to be a mensch, to the Kegel maneuver, and how to prevent stomach acid reflux after a late-night spicy dinner.
The not so “odd-couple” who fill the scenes and transport the program’s tough topics to their sweet spots are Michael Douglas (b. 1944), as Sandy Kominsky, an aging actor now making a living teaching acting and Alan Arkin (b. 1934), as Norman Newlander, an aging, prosperous scion of the talent industry. Sandy is thrice divorced, but has a new love interest, Lisa (Nancy Travis), who is strong enough, confident in her maturity, to know how to confront his narcissism and taking her for granted (are they different?).
Norman’s wife of 46 years, Eileen (Susan Sullivan), has died and he is utterly bereft. Though he has not lost his capacity for stinging one-liners. His only daughter, Phoebe (Lisa Edelstein), has a drug and alcohol addiction and overdoses; he arranges for her admission (for the 8th time) to a fancy, exorbitant rehab, where at least she can ride horses (‘equine therapy’). The road trip to deliver Phoebe to rehab by Norman and Sandy is a riotous medley of angst and comradery.
Some more of the topics this coming-of-old-age show covers - as the robust social commentary and comedy that it is - are money, the IRS, the pursuit of love, widowhood, male friendships (their depth and limits, and their frequent biting repartee), father-daughter tsurus (heart-ache), and the perils of being alone - with the timeless message of never go it alone (whatever the ‘it’ may be). In other words, just about all the sharp facets of later life.
The Kominsky Method was created and principally written by Chuck Lorre (b. 1952), the renown American TV writer (The Big Bang, Mom, Dharma and Greg, Two and a Half Men and lots more). He has set the location in Southern California, so the show is suffused with color and interpersonal conflict, and he has written brisk dialogue to match the wonderful stories he tells. While Mr. Lorre spares no one from his x-ray vision into human nature, he does it all with a loving touch.
To round out the cast, we have Danny DeVito (ever shorter and more brilliant) playing a urologist, Elliot Gould as himself - another senior citizen whose fame is fading, and Ann-Margaret as a seemingly predatory husband hunter.
By the way, in case you doubt my laudatory opinion of this show, it won Golden Globe awards for Best Television Series (Musical or Comedy) and Michael Douglas won Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series (also Musical or Comedy).
If you are an aging man, turn on your cable TV, grab a drink (you may need one as an old man), settle in, and see yourself kindly and candidly portrayed in The Kominsky Method. Others, not just aging men, may also love it.