Chuck Lorre is breaking new ground for himself with The Kominsky Method.
The sitcom megacreator — known for bringing everything from Dharma & Greg to Two and a Half Men to The Big Bang Theory to television — will next launch a very different kind of project: The Kominsky Method, a tender Netflix half-hour that takes an empathetic but exacting look at the process of aging. The series follows Sandy Kominsky (Michael Douglas), a past-his-prime actor now working as a life coach, and his bond with his longtime agent and friend Norman (Alan Arkin).
The series finds plenty of comedy in getting older, but it’s equally interested in living in the pain and strangeness of the experience — the grief of losing loved ones, the confusion with what’s happening to your body. Lorre also develops a late-in-life romance between Sandy and Lisa (Nancy Travis), who challenges him to look at the world in new ways.
The Kominsky Method premieres Saturday at AFI Fest in Los Angeles at 7:30 p.m. In advance of the AFI bow, EW caught up with Lorre about creating the show, working with two Oscar winners, and learning how to make a new kind of TV. Read on for more. The Kominsky Method hits Netflix on Nov. 16.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did the show come together?
CHUCK LORRE: I wanted to write about the experience of getting older: how that feels in terms of your body, your relationships, losing loved ones, being estranged from the culture. There’s so much that goes on as you watch your body decay. So that was the impetus.
Well, you’re obviously finding the humor in that process here.
I hope I did! [Laughs] I believe it’s yet to be decided if I succeeded, because I’m a little close to it.
Fair enough. But it’s interesting the way you speak about it, since the series is still comic in many ways.
Absolutely. There are health issues and losing loved ones. But to watch this happening to all of us…. Sooner or later, we all have this experience. Internally, you don’t feel your age. Everybody pretty much agrees with that. But then every once in a while you walk the past mirror and you go, “Oh my God, who’s that old guy?” That collision of perception is, I hope, where some of the comedy comes from.
Did you find the process of writing this more challenging than what you typically write, especially given your personal relationship to the material?
I loved this process. It was a real gift for me, starting with Michael Douglas agreeing to star in it and Alan Arkin coming on board. Netflix gave me a great deal of freedom. It was a little disorienting at first, having spent a long time in network television — which is constrained by time. You only have a little less than 22 minutes for a half-hour show. The first episode of Kominsky is 32 minutes long, and nobody at Netflix blinked. It’s not a relevant factor. They just want you to tell a good story. The freedom of having no time constraints was wonderful. There are no commercial breaks, so you can tell the story without worrying about losing your audience because you stopped for four minutes for commercials. The story has a different flow and tempo without commercial breaks. And there are no barriers to language.
Well, you did have a Netflix show prior to this, Disjointed. I take it that was closer to your typical network TV experience.
Disjointed was a four-camera show in front of an audience, very much in the form and shape of the sitcoms that I’ve been involved in for a long time. The freedom that comes with being on a streaming service like this is pretty amazing, but doing Kominsky really felt more like we were making a little movie every week.
Michael and Alan have such great chemistry in this show. How did you write to them, and how did that develop during filming?
I’ll be honest with you: It was a little intimidating for a while there. These are two men that I’ve been a fan of, watching their work for 50 years. That’s really when I became aware of both actors, back in the ’60s. It was astonishing to get to work with them and watch them work up close. There’s a level of mastery with both men that’s remarkable. It was a great learning experience for me to watch them work. I’m just so thrilled to be able to walk onto a set with those two men; a little humbling. Like, “Holy mackerel, these two gentlemen are actually saying what I wrote!” [Laughs]
You mentioned learning experiences here. What did you take away from them?
There’s a whole different rhythm to making a small movie than to working in front of an audience. [On the latter], our comedy is very influenced by the audience’s laughter — the rhythm of the scenes is determined by where and how long the audience laughs, or not. In that way, they’re very much part of the show. The audience is part of the storytelling when you work that way. When you take that out and you’re shooting it like a movie, there are different rhythms. The camera can get much closer than it would in a situation comedy. They can come in close and give you a whole range of human expressions that aren’t available to you in a four-camera show. I learned a lot. I’m still learning.
I also wanted to ask you about the romantic element of the show. It’s not too often where we see two people of a certain age take center stage, in a love story of sorts.
Sandy, as a single man at his age — that’s a strange place to be, on your own. I wanted the romantic entanglement to be with a woman who’s every bit his equal — not a younger woman in a May-December kind of situation, but someone who would challenge him and call him on his nonsense. I wanted her smarter than him in many ways, stronger and more grounded. Maybe a character he can learn from.
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This post has been updated to reflect that Lorre will not appear for a “Conversation” event at AFI Festival.
The Kominsky Method