The Best Jewish Television of 5780Part of: The Almas 5780
Jewish television had a year. From Esty, a young woman who leaves her Satmar Hasidic community in Brooklyn to find freedom in Berlin in the breakout hit Unorthodox, to the interfaith Rose family on Schitt’s Creek, to the return of Jewish drag queen Miz Cracker, Jewish characters and personalities of all backgrounds and identities graced the small screen this past year. Like last year, there was simply a bounty of excellent Jewish television. So, without further ado, here are the Almas for the best Jewish television of this past (Hebrew) year.
JUMP AHEAD: THE BEST OF THE BEST / ON-SCREEN JUDAISM / MISCELLANEOUS
The Best of the Best
The Best Jewish Show
Unorthodox, the fictional miniseries based on the autobiographical book Deborah Feldman, was a surprising whirlwind success. The women-helmed show starring the fiery Shira Haas as Esty Shapiro, a woman who leaves her Hasidic community for Berlin, was nominated for eight Emmy Awards. While some have criticized the show for its depiction of Jewish Orthodoxy (or rather, for the effect of said depiction on the perception of Jewish Orthodoxy), this show was truly masterful television, taking care to portray both the Satmar community and the language it speaks with as much precision as possible. Plus, the show was a big win for Yiddish TV — it’s the first Netflix series to be filmed primarily in the Ashkenazi Jewish tongue. We can’t wait to see what its amazing Jewish stars do in 5781 (here’s to Shira Haas in Shtisel season 3!).
The Show We’re Sitting Shiva For
Our beloved Schitt’s Creek ended its six-season run this spring.
Co-created by Jewish father-and-son duo Eugene Levy and Dan Levy, Schitt’s Creek was a warm, fuzzy hug of a TV show. The finale left us, as Emily Burack wrote in Alma, with exactly what we were craving: a happy ending. And although we understand the show had to end, how will we ever forget Catherine O’Hara’s delightfully wacky Moira (“bébé!”) and Annie Murphy’s Alexis, who has the most expressive face and has been turned into so many wonderful gifs!? The joy of Schitt’s Creek is, fundamentally, the goodness at the heart of the show. What gives us solace is that we’ll be able to log onto Netflix and return to it whenever we need.
The Best Israeli Show
The third season of the Israeli television show Fauda premiered on Netflix in April. The drama follows Doron Kavillio (Lior Raz) and his unit as they go undercover to try and thwart terror attacks on Israel. (While the star of Fauda may be Raz, the stars of our hearts are unabashedly Idan Amedi and Rona-Lee Shimon.) Fauda is not without its flaws — it’s an Israeli show about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which brings along its fair share of biases — but any show that tries to get at the nuances of one of the most complex conflicts in the world will inevitably fall short. That doesn’t mean it isn’t highly watchable and well-produced.
The Best Nothing Jewish About This Show But We’re Claiming It Anyway
We will simply never stop shouting about how freakin’ amazing What We Do In the Shadows is. The premise is simple, if ridiculous: a documentary crew follows four vampires who live together in a house on Staten Island. The simplicity is what makes the show so successful — the tone is silly, deadpan, absurd, and downright hilarious. In a world where everything feels terrible, we need ridiculousness more than ever.
And yes, there’s a small Jewish angle: It was co-created by Taika Waititi, Jewish-Māori director, writer, actor, and expert romper-wearer.
The Best Jewish Joke
This may be cheating because he was also a real-life comedian, but Lenny Bruce’s jokes in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel simply stole the scene every time he was on screen. In season three, when Lenny shows up in the hotel bar where Midge is working on her set, she is shocked to discover he lives in Florida. He replies, “At some point, every Jew must live in Florida. It’s in the Torah.” They go on to have a night together (their chemistry is electric) and the episode only confirms our love for Luke Kirby’s Lenny Bruce.
The Best Hanukkah Episode
Not since the Rugrats Hanukkah special have we been so touched to see the Festival of Lights given the pop culture treatment in such an endearing way. In the season four finale of High Maintenance — titled “Soup,” which is, you know, already pretty Jewish — the HBO show about a weed delivery guy in New York gave us a touching Hanukkah episode about donuts, candles, mental illness, and the feeling of not fitting into your family. What else could you want?
The Best Passover Episode
Big Mouth, the lovable Netflix animated show about puberty based on the childhoods of Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg, returned for a third season this year. The highlight? Episode 5, set at Andrew’s grandfather’s retirement home in Florida during Passover. There were perfect small details — from Star of David-shaped vape smoke to the seder beginning at 4 p.m. to the Menopause Witch telling Barbara, “Your womb is dry like matzah meal” — but also big ones, like the retelling of the story of Passover, a cringe-worthy “Ma Nishtana” prayer, and an afikomen with too-high stakes. Overall, just a fantastic episode.
The Best Bris Episode
In Season 3, Episode 7 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Noah (Midge’s brother) and his wife, Astrid, welcome their first child, a son. Naturally, they have a bris for him and the mohel, David Rosenbaum, proceeds to make mohel jokes. (Mohel humor: It’s a thing!) “I’m hoping this goes better than my last one,” the mohel says. “There’s nothing funny about a mohel with hiccups. There was another time I had slept badly the night before, and I admit, I was a little snippy.” Shirley, Midge’s former mother-in-law, then says in an aside: “We’ve had funnier mohels, I can tell you that.” Find us a more accurate bris scene on TV, we dare you.
The Best Jewish Reality Contestant
Our Jewish queen Miz Cracker returned to our screens for Ru Paul’s Drag Race All Stars, placing in the top three. In an interview, she told Nylon Magazine, “Being able to show young Jewish people that it can be beautiful to be Jewish even though it’s different from other people is one of the most important parts of my drag to me. So to have a proudly Jewish queen in the top three, it means a lot — whether it’s me or somebody else.” It means a lot to us, Miz!!!
The Best Jewish Princess
An animated Jewish Disney princess? What did we do to deserve this?! In December, Disney introduced a very special Hanukkah episode of Elena of Avalor featuring a princess from a Latino Jewish kingdom. As Kveller broke down: The episode, “Festival of Lights,” first aired on Dec. 6, follows a new character, Princess Rebeca (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), as her royal ship ran into dicey waters on the shores of Avalor. Once safely on land, Princess Elena learns that Rebeca was on her way home to the Latino Jewish kingdom of Galonia to celebrate Hanukkah. Her grandmother’s treasured menorah was lost at sea, and the princess would not make it home for the holiday celebration. Oh no! But Elena was ready to help another princess in need, so she and her family step in: They learn all about the Festival of Lights and help create a meaningful Hanukkah experience for all. Representation matters!
The Best Jewish Double
Are two Paul Rudds better than one? Mathematically speaking, the answer is yes, but we’re still not 100% sure what to make of Living With Yourself, the show where Paul Rudd plays two different versions of the same character, Miles. Its take on aging and the dulling effect of routine on passion and romance just doesn’t feel as sharp as it should be. But one thing is for sure: Casting Paul Rudd, who, as we all know, does not age, ever, as a younger fresher version of himself is *chef’s kiss* and we all could use more Paul Rudd in our lives, period.
The Most Divisive Jewish Character
Never Have I Ever premiered in early quarantine to rave reviews. Here on Alma, Ayelet Tsabari wrote how the show was just what she needed as a Yemeni Jewish teen. “Watching Devi Vishwakumar was like watching myself as a teen. Devi is the heroine I wish I had back then: a brown, nerdy, angry teenager who had just lost her dad (and is dying to have sex, and has too much hair on her arms),” Tsabari wrote.
What sparked debate, however, was the Jewish character on the show: Ben Gross.
Jaren Lewison, who plays Ben, told Alma that the role was a dream come true. “When I read the character description, it [said] Ben’s Jewish and had Blake Griffin at his bar mitzvah I was like, oh my God, this is my time, let’s go! It’s great being able to play a Jewish character,” Lewison said. But others, like Alma contributor Amanda Silberling, called out the lack of nuance in Ben’s character, writing on Alma that “the depiction of Ben’s Jewish identity… rarely feels more developed than cheap punchlines.” Wherever you land on the Ben Gross’s Jewishness debate, we are excited for season two of this show.
The Best Narrator
One thing we could all agree on: Andy Samberg’s narration of Ben’s special episode of Never Have I Ever was fantastic.
The Best Impression of Timothée Chalamet
Our Jewish comedy star Chloe Fineman wins this one, hands down.
Essentially, every Chloe Fineman impression this year was gold.
The Best On-Screen Fashion
Hulu’s TV adaptation of the classic book turned classic movie High Fidelity did not disappoint: It was charming, relatable, and incredibly watchable, mostly all thanks to its star, Zoë Kravitz, who plays a love-challenged Brooklyn record store owner, Rob. The Jewish actress emanates coolness throughout the series, but it’s the likable kind of cool that isn’t there to intimidate anyone. You can see exactly what we mean through Zoë’s hodgepodge fashion: not made up of designer clothes, but vintage t-shirts, unexpected outfit combos, and one very good green sweater vest.
As Molly Tolsky wrote in Alma, “She makes eating cereal while walking around in her sweatpants, milk dribbling down her chin, a glamorous display. She literally makes Doug Funny’s everyday outfit look like something I’d spend $400 on trying to recreate and fail.”
The Best Guest Star
Put Maya Rudolph on your TV show and your TV show is instantly better. This year, Rudolph had two starring guest roles on Saturday Night Live and The Good Place — playing Kamala Harris and the Judge, respectively. In each performance, she was zany and hilarious, delivering every single line to perfection. She was even nominated against herself in the Emmy category for guest actress in a comedy series.
(We hope to see a lot more of Rudolph’s Harris moving forward…)
The Best Food Network Star
Jack Hazan joined the Food Network as a contributor this year, and we’re already obsessed. Hazan, a Syrian Jewish American, shares his recipes for his grandma’s focaccia, pita bread, and babka crunch. Oh, and he is also a licensed psychotherapist and has a successful company selling challah products.
“I’m so happy that I was able to share these recipes with people across America that don’t really get access to baked goods like challah bread, or babka,” Hazan told the Nosher. “It’s just wonderful to have that opportunity to share that with people and connect. Just reading the messages and responding and then [seeing when] they make it. I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, first of all, you trusted me and this recipe enough to take the time to sit and make this. That is the biggest compliment you can ever give me.’”