The Kominsky Method: Wonder Boys Meets Golden Girls?

If you liked Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys, you will enjoy The Kominsky Method, a Netflix series that started in 2018. Its first season is complete with eight episodes, and Season 2 is reported to be in the works.

Wonder Boys (2000) is about a guy who teaches better than he writes. He has a series of failed marriages and younger love-interests (one his student), and goes on adventures with his quirky agent-sidekick.

In Kominsky, Douglas plays an acting coach, Sandy Kominsky, who teaches better than he acts. He has a series of failed marriages and a younger love-interest, who is also his student, and he goes on adventures with his quirky agent/best friend.

Many of Douglas’ students, in both movie and series, are called but few are chosen. (The successful ones in Kominsky are very successful indeed; Faye Dunaway and others are mentioned, and Douglas implies he slept with them too.) This provides insider humor about workshops in both fields. In the acting workshop in the series, Douglas/Kominsky talks about artists playing god with their creations.

“How do we take this information and bring it into our work?” he asks his students. “The answer, my dear colleagues, is that, like God, we must love our creations. We must imbue them with life, with character, with hope and dreams and fatal flaws, and then … then we must let them go. Because in the end, true love, God’s love, is letting go.”

His student raises his hand. “Yeah, uh, Sandy? Uh, I have an audition tomorrow for a shampoo commercial. How do I love that?”

“Wash your hair before you go.”

There are other similarities. In Wonder Boys, Douglas pops illicit pills and limps from a painful injury. In Kominsky, Douglas pops prescription and OTC meds and has a serious prostate problem that demands constant attention.

Both the movie and the series are about men worried for their careers and waning influence.

But Kominsky is mostly about growing old, having health problems, and outliving friends and partners. The fun of it is that the series does not feel like a Wilfred Brimley infomercial—or, for that matter, like Cocoon or any of a genre a friend calls “Old People Taking Another Crack At It.”

Douglas is in fine form, though he sometimes speaks with a slight slur. (He famously had tongue cancer a few years ago.) He and co-star Alan Arkin do a good job with what my same friend calls “funny-funny-sad”: Most things they struggle with separately and together are discussed or portrayed in a comic mode, but now and then something else breaks through that is genuinely moving.

Kominsky Method won a Golden Globe in 2019 for Best Television Series—Musical or Comedy, and Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series—Musical or Comedy. Arkin was nominated too. Supporting characters are played well by actors you might know by sight but not by name: Sarah Baker (Kominsky’s responsible daughter), Nancy Travis (his most recent love interest), and Susan Sullivan (Arkin’s wife, sometimes a ghost). They are joined in cameos by Ann-Margaret, Danny DeVito, Elliot Gould, Jay Leno, Corbin Bernsen, and Patti LaBelle.

The series was created by “King of Sitcoms” Chuck Lorre, who also did Big Bang Theory, Dharma and Greg, and Two and a Half Men.

While Kominsky has occasional low humor that feels slow and seems written by another writer—there is a bit where Douglas and Arkin try to Kegel their prostates into shape and imagine the sounds they make—the overall method is sound.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.