Michael 5, Zeta 1. It’ll be icy chez Dou­glas!

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - FOOD -

The lat­est Hol­ly­wood stars to switch to tele­vi­sion are Michael Dou­glas with The Komin­sky Method and Cather­ine Zeta-Jones with Queen Amer­ica. Both shows are dra­madies and both per­for­mances are in­trigu­ingly meta. We are watch­ing them play­ing older peo­ple in worlds where youth and beauty are still paramount, while they them­selves are older peo­ple in worlds where youth and beauty are still paramount. So it’s fas­ci­nat­ing on that score. But the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two, es­sen­tially, is that Komin­sky is ex­cel­lent, whereas Queen Amer­ica is plainly a stinker. I don’t know how this is play­ing out at the break­fast ta­ble in the Dou­glas house­hold but it could be icy, I imag­ine.

The Komin­sky Method stars Dou­glas as Sandy Komin­sky, who once had a mo­ment as an ac­tor but is now an act­ing coach, and Alan Arkin as his best friend and agent, Nor­man New­lan­der. It’s about men grow­ing old in LA, and rag­ing and still get­ting into trou­ble, so it’s quite Curb Your En­thu­si­asm-ish, but it’s less shouty, goes deeper, feels truer. This isn’t to say it doesn’t con­tain some ter­rif­i­cally funny lines. ‘How’s your girl­friend?’ Nor­man asks. ‘No more,’ says Sandy. ‘We didn’t have a great deal to talk about. She was half my age.’ ‘She was half your age and still an old woman,’ coun­ters Nor­man. I laughed.

They know their golden age is done, and it hurts. The young women whom Sandy would once have eas­ily chat­ted up in bars now roll their eyes. Sandy can’t sit on a play­ground bench with­out moth­ers look­ing at him war­ily and scoop­ing up their chil­dren. These men are old enough and wise enough to recog­nise their stu­pid­ity and fears and mis­takes and laugh at them but still des­per­ately want to feel young. Their friend­ship is touch­ing, even if they have the most ter­ri­ble fall­ing-outs, and it does feel typ­i­cal of those male friend­ships where you can be close with­out ever dis­cussing emo­tions specif­i­cally. ‘We’re civilised peo­ple, we keep our suf­fer­ing to our­selves,’ says Nor­man at one point. ‘Where it be­longs, sure,’ con­firms Sandy.

It also has heart as well as emo­tional power. Nor­man’s wife dies and his speech at her funeral, af­ter the male Bar­bra Streisand im­per­son­ator has sung, was ex­traor­di­nar­ily mov­ing. It took some skill to segue from one to the other with­out jar­ring. Nor­man can’t talk about his grief, but when he breaks down in the dry clean­ers be­cause there’s this dress his late wife never picked up, we un­der­stand his pain.

As for the per­for­mances, won­der­ful on both counts, but Dou­glas is es­pe­cially mes­meris­ing. Dou­glas has al­ways played al­pha roles, even sex­ual preda­tors, yet here we’re see­ing him as an old fella with a prostate that’s play­ing up, so along comes a hi­lar­i­ous Danny De­Vito (play­ing a urol­o­gist, not him­self, just so we’re clear) to stick a fin­ger where the sun don’t shine. And it’s worth it just for that, surely.

I planned only to watch a cou­ple of episodes of Komin­sky but ended up watch­ing all eight, while a cou­ple of episodes of Queen Amer­ica was more than enough, thank you very much. Zeta-Jones plays Vicki El­lis, a for­mer beauty queen who now grooms fu­ture beauty queens and who may go down as one of the most un­re­lat­able TV char­ac­ters of all time. This is meant to be a satire, I think (hard to say), but Vicki sim­ply comes over as gra­tu­itously cruel. She has a niece (it will turn out to be her daugh­ter) who is over­weight and Vicki is gra­tu­itously cruel to her. The scene where she takes her shop­ping and noth­ing will fit is com­pletely hor­ri­ble.

This is aim­ing for Ugly Betty in tone, I think (again, hard to say), but has none of those smarts. The script has peo­ple end­lessly telling oth­ers what they would al­ready know. Would Vicki’s best friend need to tell her how they be­came best friends? Would Vicki’s sis­ter need to tell her why she raised her daugh­ter? Vicki will come to see the er­ror of her ways, that much is clear, but there is noth­ing to keep you watch­ing, not even Ze­taJones’s per­for­mance. ‘Broad’ is the nice way of putting it but ‘chew­ing the scenery’ says it bet­ter.

On to the John le Carré adap­ta­tion, Lit­tle Drum­mer Girl, which I said at the out­set would be a crit­i­cal suc­cess but not a pop­u­lar one, and that I’d eat my hat if at least a mil­lion view­ers hadn’t dropped away af­ter episode one. And? It launched with 5.2m view­ers, dropped to 3.8m for episode two and dropped even fur­ther (2.9m) for episode three. It’s not just that it’s overly labyrinthine, it also lacks any ten­sion or drama or pace. We’re up to episode four and Char­lie has only just in­fil­trated the Pales­tinian broth­er­hood. I’m stick­ing with it be­cause I’m too far down the line but am not sur­prised oth­ers have fled. And re­mem­ber: you read it here first.

Split screen: Cather­ine Zeta-Jones and Michael Dou­glas

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