Multiple Emmy winner Chuck Lorre can credit some of TV's biggest sitcoms in recent years to his name, including 'The Big Bang Theory' and 'Two and a Half Men' but also nineties shows like 'Cybil', 'Grace Under Fire' and 'Dharma and Greg'. It would be safe to assume you would now know what to expect from a Chuck Lorre creation, but his latest series, a Netflix original called 'The Kominsky Method', would prove you wrong.
There is no canned laughter to be found here, no live studio audience sitting where a wall should be, this is a comedy that, unlike a lot of Lorre's other shows, doesn't spend all its time trying to be funny. 'The Kominsky Method' knows when to take a breath and let the plot and the characters develop at ease so that when the laughs do come, they feel natural and deserved.
Michael Douglas (Michael Douglas!) takes on the lead role as aging acting coach Sandy Kominsky while equally legendary actor Alan Arkin plays his best friend and longtime agent Norman Newlander. The pair have that type of friendship where they're just as likely to be hurling insults at each other one minute, as they are to be chuckling away with each other the next.
The rest of the cast comprises of Susan Sullivan as Norman's wife Eileen, Lisa Edelstein as their teenage-daughter-in-the-body-of-a-46-year-old Phoebe, while Sarah Baker plays Sandy's daughter Mindy and Nancy Travis (who will forever be known to us as the mum in the 'Three Men and a Baby' movies) plays Sandy's love interest Lisa.
(*Slight spoilers ahead*)
The show hits pretty hard in the opening episode with the death of Eileen, a tragic but necessary move to really depict the high and lows of Sandy and Norman's friendship as their barrage of banter and insults is interrupted to grieve her death.
Sandy, meanwhile, has his own health problems as he finds himself facing prostate issues while also coming to terms with the fact that his wild days are behind him.
There are moments in all of this that are both poignant and hilarious, and sometimes just plain ridiculous (like that over-the-top funeral). A scene at the end of episode three totally caught us off guard as Norman breaks down when he's handed a dress of Eileen's at the dry cleaners while the surprising tenderness in Sandy and Norman's relationship makes for some heartwarming moments.
It's great to see Michael Douglas, who also executive produces, get so much screen time, an actor that we know can pull off drama and comedy with aplomb, and proves this yet again in 'The Kominsky Method' while Arkin also thrives in the role of the curmudgeonly Norman.
The script, though by-the-numbers at times, is filled with some great lines, from Danny DeVito, who guest stars as a doctor, informing Sandy he has cancer but the "nice kind" to Norman declaring that "standards and integrity are for Oscar winners" along with Elliot Gould hoping to make it as an action star "like Liam Neeson".
What lets 'The Kominsky Method' down at times is the unnecessary sitcom-like tropes brought in - we don't need the dream sequences or the inner monologue - when Sandy is walking through the park looking at all the other young people it's clear what he's thinking, it doesn't need to be spelled out. Audiences are smart enough to keep up.
The show seems to be trying in one moment to aim for the dry humour of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' while in the next reminds you more of an episode of 'Grace and Frankie'. It feels like a more original show could have been carved out of it, but maybe that's to come in season two, although that has not yet been commissioned.
Overall though, 'The Kominsky Method' is a charming watch that gives a poignant yet entertaining insight into life and aging through the eyes of two wonderfully flawed characters, played by actors who have been around long enough to do them justice.