Michael Douglas and Adam Arkin in Netflix's The Kominsky Method
Internet TV

Boxset Monday: The Kominsky Method (season one) (Netflix)

Available on Netflix

Chuck Lorre is pretty much the king of the long-running CBS multi-camera sitcom and has been for years. Mom, The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, and Mike and Molly, to name but a few, are all his.

If you had to characterise these shows, ‘misanthropic’, ‘misogynistic’, ‘stereotypical’, ‘lowest common denominator’, ‘crass’ and ‘cruel’ might pepper your descriptions at various points. A few choice other words might be there, too.

All of which makes The Kominsky Method, Lorre’s latest addition to his comedy oeuvre, quite a surprise. It’s a genuine Netflix original, for starters. It’s also a single-camera comedy. It’s also funny, smart, human and even poignant at times.

Colour me surprised.

The Kominsky Method

The Kominsky Method

The central characters are twice-divorced, formerly successful actor Sandy Kominsky, who’s played by no less a star than Michael Douglas. Kominsky is now a much more successful acting coach, who runs an LA acting studio with his daughter (Go On‘s Sarah Baker), teaching various young wannabes how to act.

Kominsky best friend is – sadly for him – his curmudgeonly agent, again played by no less a star than Alan Arkin. Arkin has been happily married to Susan Sullivan (Castle, Dharma and Greg) for 40 years, but even more sadly, she’s dying of cancer.

It’s no big spoiler to say that Sullivan passes away in the first episode and the rest of the series is then about Arkin’s reaction, as well as how Douglas’s and Arkin’s relationship changes afterwards as they try to navigate single old age – particularly once Arkin’s alcoholic daughter (House‘s Lisa Edelstein) shows up and Douglas starts dating one of his students, the nearly age appropriate Nancy Travis (Three Men and a Baby, Last Man Standing).

Cue hilarious hijinks? Well, yes, oddly enough, as well as a surprising number of high profile cameos and even the occasional tear.

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Homecoming
Internet TV

Boxset Monday: Homecoming (season one) (Amazon)

Available on Amazon

TV doesn’t have many auteurs – that is, people whose work you can recognise pretty instantly simply from their ‘look and feel’. Largely, that’s because TV seasons are so long and production so collaborative that one individual, even a showrunner, is unlikely to have enough control over every episode that their ‘fingerprints’ can be spotted.

Sam Esmail seems to be one of the few who can claim to be a TV auteur. The creator and frequent director of Mr Robot, he has a distinct, innovative, experimental directorial style, as well as equally distinct thematic concerns about the nature of the reality.

Or so I’ve gleaned from Homecoming, Amazon’s new original series starring Julia Roberts as psychiatrist at a medical facility helping veterans recover from PTSD, all 10 episodes of which are directed Sam Esmail. From the opening titles of the first episode to the final post-credits scene of the tenth episode, if you’ve seen Mr Robot, you’ll never be in any doubt whatsoever that you’re watching a Sam Esmail drama. And that’s a double-edged thing.

Homecoming Pineapple

Homecoming

Back when I was reviewing Alex Inc, I pointed out that US firm Gimlet Media has discovered the only way to make real money from podcasts: get someone to adapt them as TV series. Gimlet seems to be getting quite good at this, since Homecoming is another adaptation of a Gimlet podcast, albeit a relatively loose one. Ironically, it’s also vastly more interesting for its visual style than for its actual storyline.

The show runs in two parallel timelines, each of which has its own aspect ratio. The first is set in a blurry, 1970s-style 1:1 aspect ratio 2022, when Roberts is working in a seaside diner as a waitress. Into her life comes DoD complaints investigator Shea Whigham (Waco, Vice Principals, Boardwalk Empire) who wants to know about an incident at a facility at which Roberts used to work involving Stephan James (Shots Fired), one of the ‘Homeland’ veterans in the facility’s care. Roberts denies everything and pleads ignorance.

Meanwhile, back in crisp, HD 16:9 2018, we get to see Roberts’ evolving relationship with James as she provides therapy to him in an effort to help him deal with what he’s seen while fighting overseas. We also get to see the increasingly angry phone relationship she has with boss Bobby Cannavale (Mr Robot, Antman, Jumanji), as it becomes clear that maybe Homecoming has a slightly different agenda to the one its participants have been told.

What isn’t Roberts telling Whigham and why is she now working as a waitress when she’s a trained social worker? More importantly, over the course of the season, what Roberts isn’t telling Whigham increasingly becomes less important than why… Spoilers after the jump.

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Tell Me A Story
International TV

What have you been watching? Including Tell Me A Story

It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week

It’s been a bit of a slow one, this week – yes, I’m talking about myself – but it’s also been a bit quiet for TV. I’m vaguely considering watching Amazon’s Homecoming, since:

  1. It stars Julia Roberts
  2. It’s from Sam Esmail (Mr Robot)
  3. Each episode is only about half an hour long
  4. I would have watched it last weekend, but I was away (!)

But that’s more or less been it for new shows, although I’ll be taking a look at the first episode of new arrival Tell Me A Story (US: CBS All Access) after the jump.

I’m sure the weekend will bring us something new, though. Gosh, if only there were a handy feature on this ‘ere blog that could tell me when new shows were starting

Time for the regulars, though. Black Lightning went on holiday this week, so after the jump, it’s DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Doctor Who, Happy Together, The Last Ship, Magnum PI, Pine Gap, Titans and You. There’s not one but two promotions in that list. Can you guess which ones will receive the TMINE blessing?

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Brenton Thwaites as Robin in DC's Titans
US TV

Third-episode verdict: Titans (US: DC Universe; UK: Netflix)

In the US: Fridays, DC Universe
In the UK: Acquired by Netflix. Will air in 2018

Genre mash-ups can work. And sometimes they don’t. Titans is an interesting example not just of sub-genre mash-ups but of how they can go both right and wrong at the same time.

A sort of Lower Decks/The Zeppo for superhero shows, it sees a bunch of also-rans and sidekicks grouping up together to fight crime, evil and maybe even the Apocalypse. The first episode introduced us to all our main characters – Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy and Raven, each of whom belongs to his or her own genre. Robin is all gritty shakycam, ultraviolence and Batman Begins, as he struggles to strike his own path as a detective away from Batman’s influence; Starfire is an odd sci-fi Bourne Identity, an alien princess who’s lost her memory and is on a quest to find out who she really is; Raven is The Exorcist, the daughter of a demon, and a potential threat to all humanity if she’s not careful; and the shape-changing Beast Boy… remains to be seen, given he’s had a grand total of five minutes’ screen-time over the first three episodes.

All separate, these worked very nicely. Surprisingly, even when they’ve come together over the three episodes to greater and lesser degrees, those genres have been able to survive contact. The plots have worked, the characters have complemented each other, nothing’s made the other seem too silly or too serious.

Titans

Hawk wind-up

The trouble, however, arrived in episode 2. In part, Titans is designed to launch other superheroes and other TV shows, with Swamp Thing and Doom Patrol set to appear next year. Episode 2 gave us Hawk and Dove and quickly exposed the fact that superheroes in silly costumes don’t look good next to grimdark – and vice versa. It also showed that Titans needs to have a good ensemble onscreen in each story: with just Robin, Raven and Hawk and Dove in the episode, it felt flabby and in need of the variety the other characters bring.

Indeed, when everyone’s united in the third episode and Hawk and Dove are still present but downplayed, Titans continues to be compelling view, as you’re never quite sure which direction it’s going to go in next. Demons? Sci-fi incinerations? Exorcisms? Detective work? Your guess is as good as mine. Even when the stupid villains of episode two, the Nuclear Family, show up again, somehow they’re more palatable.

At its best, then, Titans is a ready-made Avengers – what Justice League should have been if there hadn’t been such problems behind the scenes. There are hints at a large universe, such as Robin’s nonchalance when he realises that Starfire is an alien (I’m guessing knowing Superman might help on that score) and the presence of Donna Troy in his address book. There’s the different take on Batman, a figure who’s never actually seen in full even as Bruce Wayne, but whose mentally dodgy presence is felt throughout. There are some surprisingly good fight scenes, smart looks at what it is to be a mortal superhero who grows old and needs to wash their costume at night. It can be funny, thrilling and can evoke pathos.

However, when the show steers away from its core mix, it risks disrupting this delicate chemistry and looking downright ridiculous. If it can stay focused, Titans will be a definite keeper. But if it gets its genre mix wrong, it’ll be off the viewing queue before you can say Gotham.

Barrometer rating: 2

The Barrometer for Titans

The Rookie
US TV

Review round-up: Charmed, Camping, The Rookie and The Kids Are Alright

Some TV programmes are worth great big long reviews. Some just aren’t. Four shiny new US shows missed out on being included in yesterday’s WHYBW since I hadn’t got round to watching them. I have now, but rather than do individual reviews, I’m going to review them en masse, because honestly, there’s not much to say about them. Oh well.

So, for what it’s worth, join me after the jump where I’ll review the first episodes of Charmed (US: The CW; UK: E4), Camping (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic), The Rookie (US: ABC; UK: Sky Witness) and The Kids Are Alright (US: ABC).

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