With three SAG Award noms adding to the momentum of kudos recognition for Netflix’s “The Kominsky Method,” the show has quickly become the most well-received series in Chuck Lorre’s long career in television. It’s also among the most personal.
“I wanted to write about getting older and all that that entails,” Lorre told Variety. “I wanted to write about people losing loved ones and dealing with health issues and grown children. I found this wonderful avenue through Netflix where there were no ratings restrictions and they were totally supportive. I could write without looking over my shoulder.”
“Kominsky” revolves around the close friendship of an aging acting teacher, played by Michael Douglas, and his longtime friend and agent, played by Alan Arkin. In the past two weeks, the Warner Bros. TV series, which bowed Nov. 21, has racked up Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award nominations as well as an AFI mention.
“Gratifying doesn’t even begin to cover how extraordinary this has been,” Lorre said of the kudos recognition.
“Kominsky” was birthed about three years ago when Lorre challenged himself to see if he could still write a pilot from scratch on his own.
“It had been a long, long time since I’d been in a room alone,” Lorre said. “I wanted to see if I could do it — if there was a story there and if I had something to say.”
The script eventually found its way to Michael Douglas, who was eager to play the role of Sandy Kominsky. Douglas and Arkin met for tea at a hotel in Beverly Hills in the summer of 2017 and the deal was sealed.
“Walking into Netflix between those two guys was a pretty heady experience,” Lorre said.
It was important to Lorre that in telling Kominsky’s coming-of-old-age story that the character was not cynical or crass about his work as acting teacher. The character’s journey is similar to the experience that Lorre had in his early career when he came to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of musical stardom. Television was something of an accidental detour. Lorre ranks among the most prolific producers of the past 25 years with such hits as “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory.”
“I chased that (music) dream for 20-odd years, and then I stumbled into something I learned to love, and I feel lucky that I stumbled into it,” Lorre said. “That story for Sandy is that sometimes your dreams don’t come true but a better dream arrives.”
Kominsky has to come to grips with the reality that while he is never going to be a marquee name as an actor, he has become a very capable acting teacher.
“I didn’t want to make fun of acting. I wanted to tell a story about a man who loves his craft,” Lorre said. “He loves the art of it, and he is a good teacher despite his character flaws, which are many.”
Lorre also chose a thespian theme for “Kominsky” as a tip of the hat to the great actors he’s worked with over the years.
“I’ve been lucky enough to watch startlingly talented people at work and it’s a chance to pay homage to that,” Lorre said. “It’s an incredibly courageous thing to do to throw yourself in front of an audience. There’s no guitar strapped around your shoulder. It’s just you. It’s an incredibly vulnerable thing to do, to act.”
Arkin’s Norman is an amalgam of many real-life Hollywood characters that Lorre has known over the years. He sidestepped the stereotypical agent tropes by making Norman’s story center on the devastating loss of his wife of 46 years. Arkin delivers a eulogy scene in an early episode that made Lorre realize that “Kominksy” was clicking on a higher plane than he ever thought possible.
“Watching how Alan chose to craft that speech was one of the highlights of my career,” Lorre said.
Lorre is still adjusting his showrunner biorhythms to the commercial-free environs of Netflix. “Kominsky” is his second series for the streaming giant, following the pot shop comedy “Disjointed” toplined by Kathy Bates that premiered in 2017.
Lorre feels “liberated” by ability to write the episodes to any length, rather than a rigid 22-minute format with act breaks. The understanding that viewers are likely to view the show’s episodes in batches rather than once a week inspired him to tell a “big story.”
“It’s a gift to simply be able to tell the story,” Lorre said. “It puts the focus on the story and the characters and the comedy. There’s a freedom to tell the best story possible and to not look at the clock.”