LIFE’S FUNNY LIKE THAT

An ac­tor finds mad­ness in the method, and a fam­ily shreds it­self in pur­suit of power and for­tune

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blun­dell The Komin­sky Method Suc­ces­sion

The Komin­sky Method is cre­ated by Chuck Lorre, the man who has all but sin­gle-hand­edly kept the tele­vi­sion stu­dio com­edy genre alive, pro­duc­ing some of TV’s big­gest hits of the past three decades in­clud­ing the orig­i­nal Roseanne, Cy­bill, Grace Un­der Fire, Mike & Molly and Two and a Half Men. It’s the uniquely Amer­i­can art form known as the multi-cam­era sit­com, typ­i­cally staged like a Broad­way play on a de­lib­er­ately ar­ti­fi­cial-look­ing set with no fourth wall.

An au­di­ence files into the sound­stage to watch and laugh, and sev­eral cam­eras, usu­ally four, cap­ture ev­ery scene from a va­ri­ety of an­gles to al­low for more op­tions in edit­ing. The au­di­ence’s laugh­ter is re­tained as a laugh track. And Lorre still hardly pauses for breath, with The Big Bang The­ory, Young Shel­don and Mom, ac­cord­ing to CBS News, av­er­ag­ing more than 40 mil­lion view­ers a week early this year, led by the sin­gle most-watched broad­cast on TV: The Big Bang The­ory.

Now he has teamed with Net­flix to move from the pas­sive stu­dio au­di­ence and all those cam­eras to a so-called sin­gle-cam­era com­edy with no laugh track called The Komin­sky Method, an eight-episode se­ries that he cowrote with Al Hig­gins and David Javer­baum. Michael Dou­glas stars as Sandy Komin­sky, a failed ac­tor turned act­ing coach. His agent, Nor­man, played by the inim­itable Alan Arkin, is also his long-suf­fer­ing friend. His job is equally un­re­ward­ing. The se­ries is re­ally about the way these two older friends at­tempt to cope with a chang­ing, un­fa­mil­iar world as their age­ing bod­ies start to leak or dry up.

“We are pas­sen­gers on boats slowly sink­ing,” says Nor­man. His friend’s at­ti­tude is no less mor­dant. “It hurts to be hu­man; it hurts like hell.” Nor­man’s wife is on her deathbed as the se­ries opens, still jok­ing with Komin­sky about his seem­ingly in­ex­haustible sup­ply of much younger girl­friends. (As is Nor­man: “Half your age is still an old woman. Do the math.”) Not only is Nor­man about to lose his wife, his daugh­ter is an ad­dict whom he has to check into re­hab against her will. He no longer finds joy in liv­ing. Yes, folks, this is a com­edy and it’s hu­mour with an acer­bic edge that quickly catches you with the emo­tion that un­der­lies it.

Nancy Travis co-stars as Lisa, a 50-some­thing act­ing stu­dent who isn’t the usual course at­tendee. Re­cently di­vorced and with a tru­cu­lent 18-year-old son at home, she gets to know Sandy dur­ing their les­sons and a late-in-life ro­mance be­gins to blos­som. The scenes between Travis and Dou­glas are high­lights of the first episode. She’s one of his stu­dents who can ac­tu­ally act and is in­ter­ested in the var­i­ous the­o­ries that Komin­sky pro­pounds rather grandly in his classes, the oth­ers more in­ter­ested in how to pre­pare for the hair sham­poo au­di­tions.

For Sandy, who once was a well-re­garded ac­tor in Hol­ly­wood and slept with so many stars he can hardly re­call — Jes­sica Lange, Diane Keaton and Faye Du­n­away are among them — death is the next big ad­ven­ture, but in the mean­time he be­lieves he can cheat it by liv­ing on in the mem­ory of his stu­dents.

Un­like Stanislavski, whom Sandy ref­er­ences in his les­sons, it’s not clear what the Komin­sky method ac­tu­ally is, and his stu­dents seem to be as con­fused as most ac­tors are in classes where they try to make fic­tional char­ac­ters some­how real. “The ac­tor is play­ing God,” he in­forms them at one point, and later: “Act­ing is how we ex­plore what it is to be hu­man.” In a droll fash­ion the episode ti­tles de­rive from the cel­e­brated Stanislavski man­ual An Ac­tor Pre­pares, so we have An Ac­tor Avoids, An Agent Grieves and A Prostate En­larges.

“We talk a lot about prostates on the show,” Lorre told TV crit­ics and re­porters re­cently at the Tele­vi­sion Crit­ics As­so­ci­a­tion press tour for the show. And with Arkin and Dou­glas, 84 and 73, re­spec­tively, his ma­te­rial seems on the money. “The show be­gan with my de­sire to write about what I’m liv­ing, which is get­ting older, and en­tropy and dis­so­lu­tion of form, the decay of the flesh,” Lorre ex­plained. “It has to be funny, oth­er­wise it’s heart­break­ing.”

And The Komin­sky Method is funny and of­ten lac­er­at­ing, a kind of heartache com­edy. The act­ing is of the high­est qual­ity, with Dou­glas, Arkin and Travis grind­ing many things within them­selves emo­tion­ally and just let­ting the quin­tes­sence rise to the sur­face. Their cre­ative ret­i­cence can­not be un­der­rated. Cre­ated by Jesse Arm­strong ( Peep Show, The Thick of It and In the Loop) and di­rected by Adam McKay, the funny man turned Os­car win­ner for The Big Short, Suc­ces­sion is a timely morality tale star­ring Brian Cox as the Lear-like Lo­gan Roy, a curt, thrice-mar­ried, un­flap­pable mogul who has given away his king­dom but now has de­cided to take it all back.

The se­ries opens on Lo­gan’s 80th birth­day, a day that’s meant to be Coro­na­tion Day for the fam­ily but where he sur­prises his four frac­tious chil­dren by telling them he won’t, in fact, be step­ping down as chief ex­ec­u­tive and chair­man of Waystar Royco, the world’s fifth largest me­dia con­glom­er­ate. Lo­gan has a rep­u­ta­tion for al­ways be­ing true to his word. Not this time.

Lo­gan is so mes­sian­i­cally cer­tain of his right­eous­ness that he di­vides his peo­ple into acolytes and apos­tates, and won’t ac­knowl­edge any mid­dle ground. He plays se­cret games that only he un­der­stands, though there’s also a cu­ri­ous vul­ner­a­bil­ity about him, some­thing that his third wife, the qui­etly mys­te­ri­ous Mar­cia, played with cool el­e­gance by Hiam Ab­bass, fondly ap­pre­ci­ates.

His de­ci­sion puts a se­ries of toxic con­flicts in mo­tion among his ruth­less and spoiled chil­dren, de­lay­ing plans to turn over his em­pire to one of his sons, the Gor­don Gekko-like Ken­dall (Jeremy Strong), only three years out of re­hab, or “the nut house” ac­cord­ing to his fa­ther, and rip­ping up 18 months of in­tense cor­po­rate strat­egy ac­cord­ing to Ken­dall. He’s “Heir With the Flair”, ac­cord­ing to Forbes mag­a­zine, al­most burst­ing with a sense of en­ti­tle­ment.

Alan Ruck, Kieran Culkin and Sarah Snook play the other Roy off­spring, Con­nor, Ro­man and Siob­han, who’s known as “Shiv”, a moniker that be­comes in­creas­ingly ap­pro­pri­ate as the first episode un­folds. “She’s a power-hun­gry ma­niac who’ll do f..k-knows-what with it be­cause she’s got her dad’s dick in some su­per max pussy grip and she’s juic­ing him be­fore he croaks,” says an in­creas­ingly des­per­ate Ken­dall.

Matthew Mac­fadyen, usu­ally a char­ac­ter of up­stand­ing rec­ti­tude, al­most steals the show as Shiv’s crude hus­band Tom, a man­ager in the firm, amus­ingly trite when he gives Lo­gan a Patek Philippe watch: “It’s in­cred­i­bly ac­cu­rate,” he says. “Ev­ery time you look at it, it tells you ex­actly how rich you are.” And Ni­cholas Braun plays out-of-his-depth cousin Greg, the son of Lo­gan’s es­tranged brother (James Cromwell), hop­ing to find a pur­chase in a fam­ily busi­ness char­ac­terised by its dis­dain for its mem­bers.

Arm­strong has re­jected claims the se­ries is based on the Mur­dochs, say­ing the show draws in­spi­ra­tion from, among oth­ers, Bri­tish press baron Robert Maxwell, US pub­lisher Wil­liam Ran­dolph Hearst and the ex­tended Trump fam­ily. “And we even talked about the Bri­tish queen and Char­les, who has waited so long for his suc­ces­sion,” says Arm­strong. “So there are loads of suc­ces­sion sto­ries to draw on.” McKay says if you were to look at “any of these bil­lion­aire dy­nas­tic fam­i­lies that are hav­ing an out­sized in­flu­ence on our gov­ern­ment and the way we per­ceive things and the law, it does amaze me that we don’t know more about them con­sid­er­ing what an in­flu­ence they have on our world”.

McKay di­rects us­ing a vis­ceral nat­u­ral­is­tic hand­held aes­thetic, flu­idly re­alised by cin­e­matog­ra­pher An­drij Parekh, rem­i­nis­cent of The Thick of It. It cre­ates a kind of mock­u­men­tary feel­ing to the pro­ceed­ings, which for all the ca­su­ally toxic dog-eat-dog go­ings-on pos­sesses an ir­re­sistible comic di­men­sion, mak­ing the show not so much a de­par­ture for Arm­strong as, well, a suc­ces­sion. Show­case. is stream­ing on Net­flix. airs on Thurs­day, 8.30pm, Fox

Alan Arkin, left, and Michael Dou­glas in The Komin­sky Method

Brain Cox in a scene from Suc­ces­sion

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