We’re supposedly in a golden age of television, with more outlets than ever, not to mention more quality offerings than at any point in history.
And Jews are well-represented on TV, with Israeli shows, Jewish-themed documentaries and plenty of programs that feature Jewish actors or obviously Jewish characters, even if the content often is relatively secular.
While social distancing restrictions are starting to loosen, it’s likely many summer activities will be curtailed, leading us to have more time in front of what former FCC head Newton Minow once dubbed a “vast wasteland.”
In no particular order, here are some shows to check out.
“Schitt’s Creek” (Netflix, Hulu)
A classic fish-out-of-water tale, “Schitt’s Creek” details the life of the Rose family, a once-wealthy family forced to relocate to a hick town called Schitt’s Creek they once bought as a joke.
Humor abounds as the Roses adapt to living in a cheap motel with town residents as quirky as they are. Having always-entertaining SCTVs alums Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara as stars certainly helps and the rest of the cast, including Chris Elliott, shines.
Although the Roses are Jewish, that isn’t a focal point of the six seasons; however, show creators Levy and his son Dan, who also stars in the show, are Jewish and viewers will pick up on subtle Jewish elements.
Note: The first five seasons of the show are on Netflix, but the recently completed final season won’t be on the platform until the fall.
“Grace and Frankie”/”The Kominsky Method” (Netflix)
Both shows feature plenty of alter kocker-themed humor that makes for perfect summertime viewing. It’s also a pleasure to watch old pros like Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin (Jewish!), Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston (not a Jew, but plays one in the show!) in the former and Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin (both Jewish!) in the latter clearly enjoying themselves still performing. And Jewish fingerprints are all over both shows.
“Grace and Frankie” is essentially an updated “Odd Couple,” while “The Kominsky Method” is more akin to “Grumpy Old Men.” Despite the inherent silliness in both programs, some of the universal issues plaguing seniors — death, having to urinate frequently, memory loss, being unable to get off the toilet — are dealt with both humorously and poignantly.
It’s also fun when older guest stars pop in. Wait, is that Ann-Margret? Hey, that’s Sam Elliott!
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon Prime)
This much-lauded show draws kudos for a hefty dose of nostalgia as well as its portrayal of late 1950s/early 1960s Jewish housewife Miriam “Midge” Maisel who turns to comedy after her husband leaves her for his secretary.
There are Jewish themes galore and Rachel Brosnahan, a non-Jew, knocks it out of the park, mixing doses of sass and humility. The supporting cast is stellar, too.
This four-part miniseries debuted earlier this year to much acclaim, providing a searing look into the life of a young Satmar woman who abandons an unhappy arranged marriage and lowly status in her Brooklyn community.
The thing is, protagonist Esther Shapiro (superbly portrayed by Shira Haas) doesn’t know what she’s looking for. She heads to Berlin, makes friends, sort of reconciles with her outcast mother and begins to figure out what she really wants — but her husband and a cousin are hot on her trail to bring her back to the United States.
The attention to detail helps elevate “Unorthodox” into elite territory.
Like “Unorthodox,” “Shtisel” focuses on the haredi Orthodox community, although the setting is the Geula neighborhood of Jerusalem instead of Brooklyn.
The Israeli-created program explores the life Rabbi Shulem Shtisel, as well as his family, which lives in a strict religious community. When norms are violated, it creates conflict within the family.
Some have described the show as an anthropological portrayal of a mostly inaccessible society.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” (HBO)
Not much needs to be said about “Curb,” but Larry David fans or George Costanza fans (really just Larry David fans in disguise) will likely enjoy the most-recent season of Larry’s foibles coloring his life. Leon Black (J.B. Smoove) is outrageous as ever. And Jeff Greene (Jeff Garlin) being mistaken for Harvey Weinstein was a highlight, too.
“The Devil Next Door” (Netflix)
This five-part documentary about John “Ivan the Terrible” Demjanjuk, the suspected concentration camp guard, details his highly publicized trial a decade ago.
While the documentary is thorough, it’s a bit repetitive at times. Still, the testimony of survivors who identify him remains moving, even if there are some potential doubts about his guilt. (Even so, the since-deceased Demjanjuk is hardly a sympathetic figure.)
Perhaps the most salient point the documentary makes is that the passage of time blurs a lot of lines, making finding the truth a much more difficult task.
Unlike the other shows on this list, this is more of an action-thriller program. Additionally, anecdotal evidence shows that “Fauda” is a polarizing program — either you really like it or you can’t stand it.
“Fauda” focuses on Doron (Lior Raz), commander of the Israel Defense Forces’ Mista’arvim unit. Doron and his soldiers are trying to track down “The Panther,” a Hamas arch-terrorist played by Hisham Sulliman.
Mista’arvim believes it had killed The Panther more than a year prior to the show starting but, as with all good thrillers, not everything is as it seems, and all sorts of twists and turns follow.
Fans of fictional characters such as Brad Thor’s Scott Harvath or Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon might enjoy “Fauda.”
“The Plot Against America” (HBO)
Phillip Roth’s acclaimed novel of the same name seemed like a perfect candidate for movie or miniseries treatment, and this six-part HBO offering delivered, providing appointment
television during the pandemic’s early days.
“The Plot Against America” presents an alternative universe in 1940, with aviation hero (and rabid xenophobe) Charles Lindberg defeating Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the
presidency, hurtling the nation onto a much more fascist path.
As you might expect, the nation’s Jews feel the resulting impact, with the action presented via a working-class Jewish family in Newark.
Excellent character actors, including Winona Ryder, David Krumholtz and John Turturro, to name a few, raise the overall quality of “The Plot Against America.”
Honorable mention: “The Goldbergs” (ABC), “Hunters” (Amazon Prime), “The Spy” (Netflix) and “Broad City” (Amazon Prime).
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