One of the comforting niceties we hang onto as we get older is that all those years of living will eventually add up, by sheer weight of life experience, to a near-zen state of having our shit together.
We imagine ourselves sitting out on the deck of country home staring out over forests and meadows, cup of tea or glass of wine in hand, musing on how all of our ups and downs, our triumphs and mistakes led us to a place where wisdom has accreted so profoundly and substantially that every move we make is a just and perfect one, entirely free of anything remotely resembling poor decision-making or fallible life choices.
That is the dream, and then there is the beautifully-executed reality of The Kominsky Method season 2 where our two odd couple protagonists and friends Sandy Kominsky (Michael Douglas) and Norman Newlander (Alan Arkin) keep coming up against the fact that while they have lived a lot of life, they aren’t necessarily any the wiser.
Well, not as wise as they’d like to be, anyway.
Time and again in eight nicely-judged episodes, they have to deal with the fact that old age has not conferred on them any kind of omniscient infallibility and they are, in certain respects, still stubbornly equipped with training wheels.
Take Norman’s new romance for starters.
Against every expectation, especially since his beloved wife Eileen (Susan Sullivan) only died from cancer a few months earlier, he finds himself in a relationship with an old flame who predates his marriage of 46 years.
Madelyn (Jane Seymour) and Norman for a year back in 1968 and while they eventually split up and married other people, there was definitely something between them, something that comes roaring back to prominence when a chance meeting at yet another funeral (Sandy quips that this is how people their age have social lives) leads to a rekindling of a long-dormant flame.
It’s all dreamy conversations and long horse rides, with both convinced that fate has not simply smiled upon them but thrown every last twilight of life gift at them that it can find within reach, until Norman’s daughter Phoebe (Lisa Edelstein) returns from rehab and the applecart of late romance is well and truly upset.
That is not because, for once at least, Phoebe is causing issues; she appears to be genuinely trying to avoid slipping back into addiction this time around, animatedly chatting to Madelyn, who is ardently chatting back.
Boxes are being ticked left, right and centre, and in the fantasy view of old age that began this review, Norman would smile beatifically, muse on the fact that the gods were bestowing good and great things on him, and sit back and enjoy the fact that love and a clean and sober daughter were in his life at the same time.
But what does he do instead?
He freaks out, convinced that Phoebe will once again trainwreck the hell out of his life, and in a fit of pique, loses it at both Phoebe, who departs with a warning to not let Madelyn slip from his grasp, and his new lady love who sends him into the deep freeze for a good episode or two.
Norman realises, with help from Sandy, that perhaps he should have handled things better and by season end, romance with Madelyn is back on, Phoebe and he have mostly settled into a smooth and surprisingly loving father/daughter relationship and his grandson, Robby (Haley Joel Osment) , has even returned from the clutches of Scientology.
So let’s count that as a win, even if it isn’t the product of wisdom built up over a long and thoughtfully self-aware life.
Sandy too has his own share of troubles, but his are mostly of things out of his hands rather than products of poor, flawed decision-making.
In the course of a few episodes, he discovers that his daughter Mindy (Sarah Baker), who now owns the acting studio bearing her father’s name, is in a relationship with a retired school teacher Martin who is twice her age, played by Paul Reiser in sparkling form, that his health isn’t what it should be and that he may still have some issues with the less than stellar route his career has taken.
As Sandy grapples with this raft of life obstacles and messy detours, he doesn’t always react as perfectly as perhaps he’d like to, pushing Mindy away when she tries to help him, getting close and then pushing away Martin and loses it at Alison Janney, yes THE Alison Janney, when she’s brought in to teach a class at his acting studio.
In that perfect world that exists it seems only in our hopelessly optimistic minds, Sandy would have thanked Mindy and wholeheartedly accepted her offer of assistance, kept Martin at a friendly but appropriate distance and courteously extended his appreciation to Janney for her acting insights.
But he’s fallible just like the rest of us, and what The Kominsky Method demonstrates with a great deal more insight and poignancy than Lorre’s other comedies – a couple of which are mined for comic effect through the season and why not?’ if you can’t reference your own work in your own work then where’s the fun in that? – is that age does not confer infallible wisdom nor the emotional maturity to handle everything in a perfectly adult fashion.
Thank goodness because by brutally realistic about what ageing does and doesn’t bring you, The Kominsky Method, which shines not least because of the brilliant chemistry and witty back and forth between its accomplished leads, is wonderfully accessible, very funny and touching in all the right, non-overly indulgent ways, reaffirming once again that while life may give us many things, it does not guarantee we will always be well equipped to handle it.