Amazon and Netflix, both caught up in the streaming wars that seem to have invaded all of our internet-connected devices - the Disney+ streaming app apparently was downloaded 10 million times on day one of its existence, so the game is afoot - have brought out two new seasons of series that to varying degrees reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the form.

First up, from, Amazon Prime, was "Modern Love," an eight-episode anthology series based on a popular series of New York Times columns. Each of the episodes features a different cast and premise, but each one also is based on a column about actual people in New York City.

There's one about a woman's relationship with the doorman of her building (platonic, but important) … one about a journalist's interview with the creator of a dating app who is having romantic issues … one about a woman with bi-polar disorder who has trouble making sustained connections to people … one about a middle aged couple's marital problems … one about a gay couple trying to adopt a baby … one about an elderly couple that finds love …. and so on.

The problem with "Modern Love" is that it can be uneven, which can be frustrating - though the good news is that they're all about 30 minutes long, so it isn't a long frustration. In the one about the bi-polar woman, for example, I found the script to be a little light, but the performance by Anne Hathaway was incredibly strong, and kept me involved. The middle-aged couple episode was sort of paint-by-the-numbers - not nearly as good as "State of the Union," the Sundance TV series consisting of ten 10-minute episodes, with Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd, each one about the 10 minutes they spend together in a pub before going to marriage counseling - but Tina Fey and John Slattery made it recognizably touching. And in the one about the elderly couple, the great Jane Alexander takes a slip of a script and turns it into a tour de force.

I recommend "Modern Love," mostly because it looks and feels like the kind of short stories that might appear in The New Yorker … if you like that sort of thing, you'll enjoy "Modern Love." Amazon has renewed it for a second season, and I'm looking forward to seeing if they can deepen and enrich the premise.

Which is exactly what happened on "The Kominsky Method," on Netflix, which has just returned for its second season of eight half-hour episodes. (There seems to be a trend toward shorter runs and shorter episodes. I like it.)

The first season of "The Kominsky Method" introduced us to Sandy Kominsky (Michael Douglas), an aging, divorced and somewhat randy acting coach whose best years are behind him, and Norman Newlander (Alan Arkin), his agent, who has just lost his wife of 50 years to cancer. Essentially, "The Kominsky Method" was about two aging Jewish men who kvetch a lot, but the dialogue was sparkling and it was interesting to see a sitcom king, Chuck Lorre, work in a new, one-camera format. (All of his other shows, from "The Big Bang Theory" to "Mom," have been multi-camera sitcoms.)

"The Kominsky Method" had a little of the vibe of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" going for it, and there were some very funny aging jokes. I wasn't sure that anyone under the age of 50 would enjoy it, but I did, and I said so.

The second season, however, is something else again - just as funny, if not more so, but far more interesting as it explores the frailties of the two protagonists, taking us in unexpected directions. At the same time, it introduces some new characters who get a lot of screen time - Jane Seymour as a woman from Norman's past (both the actress and the character are wonderful), and Paul Reiser as a man Sandy's age who starts dating his daughter. Reiser is almost unrecognizable, but almost steals the show … he's funny as all get out, but also touching and vulnerable. The second season of "Kominsky" also fleshes out some of the supporting characters from season one, and there are two standout cameos that you should watch for - Bob Odenkirk as a doctor (he makes the most of his three minute scene) and, go figure, the great Kathleen Turner (who starred with Douglas in Romancing The Stone, Jewel of the Nile, and War of the Roses) in a brief but very funny bit as Sandy's ex-wife.

They could've played it safe with "The Kominsky Method," but they didn't - they decided to reach for something richer and deeper and ultimately better. Make no mistake - it is still a comedy, and very funny. But it also is more than that, and is more memorable for the effort. I very much hope there is a season three.



I'm not sure what made me do it. Maybe it was my enduring affection for private eye books and movies. But the other night I was thumbing around and found Twilight on Amazon.

No, not the teen vampire Twilight. This was the 1998 noir thriller written and directed by Robert Benton, and starring Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, Susan Sarandon and James Garner. (If you don't love that cast, there's no helping you.)

Newman plays a former cop turned private eye, now retired, who gets involved in a case at his friend Hackman's request; Hackman plays a cancer-stricken movie star who is married to Sarandon, with whom Newman is not-so-secretly in love. And Garner is the former cop turned fixer who knows way more about everybody than anyone should be comfortable with. There is, of course, a little bit of sex, and lot of murder, and plenty of Raymond Chandler-esque ironic gumshoe talk.

Twilight isn't a great movie. Benton, best known for writing and directing Kramer vs. Kramer and co-writing Bonnie and Clyde, actually did it better two decades earlier with The Late Show, which starred Art Carney as an aging detective named Ira Wells, and co-starred Lily Tomlin.

But Twilight did make me think what Newman could've done with a film adaptation of "Only To Sleep," the Phillip Marlowe novel recently written by Lawrence Osborn (which I reviewed here a few weeks ago). Or what Garner could've done with the role of an aging Marlowe taking one last case. Or, for that matter, Hackman - who is still with us, though he has retired from acting.

Garner actually played Marlowe in a 1969 not-great movie called Marlowe. And one of Hackman's best roles was as a private eye named Harry Moseby in the terrific 1975 film Night Moves.

What can I tell you? This is my thing. And it was sort of fun to become reacquainted with Twilight, if only because it is about my favorite genre and has lovely performances by four old pros who made everything they were in better.



Finally…

Last year, I wrote enthusiastically here about “Flunk. Start.: Reclaiming My Decade Lost in Scientology,” by Sands Hall, a novelist, actress, musician and university writing professor who also happens to be one of my oldest friends. (Old only in the sense that we've known each other since 1977. She's young in practically every other way.) I found the book to be both granular and expansive in its approach - it wasn't just a memoir about her time in Scientology, but also a nuanced exploration of the notion of belief and, by extension, unbelief, and about yearning for connection.

That's what Scientology does - it exploits the hearts and minds and bodies of people who are in need of some sort of connection. When Sands signed on many years ago, it was with eyes wide open about its reputation, and yet she felt compelled by some inner need not being satisfied in other ways.

Last year, when reviewing the book, I wrote:

"As a reader, one can see the signs more clearly than Hall could at the time. I kept wanting to knock her out of the way of what struck me as the speeding train of Scientology, which, if it had its way, would remake everything that she was. And not just remake her. Scientology would’ve obliterated everything she was and taken everything she had.There are times when “Flunk. Start.” reads like a thriller, full of shadows and threats and characters who may be duplicitous or honest and hard to take at face value.

"In the end, though, what marks 'Flunk. Start' as an unusual approach to the subject is the consistent and deep compassion of the writing. Hall is hardest on herself, writing about personal tragedies and misjudgments, which is probably what any clear-eyed memoirist should be."

I mention this all now because her book has finally come out in a paperback edition, available on Tuesday on Amazon, though with a slightly revised title: "Reclaiming My Decade Lost in Scientology: A Memoir." (I suppose the publisher thought that the "Flunk. Start" reference, which has to do with a Scientology ritual, made the book less accessible.) The book also is available in a Kindle edition, and Sands has recorded it as an audio CD as well.

I'll say again what I said last year: I don’t think my knowing the story’s author made the book more compelling a read than it would’ve been if I did not know her. There were moments of recognition, and times when I thought I should’ve been a better, more available friend. But for anyone who reads it, I believe that as a memoir and a thoughtful exploration of faith and belief, "Reclaiming My Decade Lost in Scientology" has enormous objective power, and I'm happy to once again heartily recommend it.



That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend.

Back Monday.

Slàinte!