It’s impossible to talk about television in 5782 – or 2022, for that matter – without talking about “Jewface.” Regardless of where you stand on the issue, the debate of whether or not non-Jewish actors should play Jewish roles has dominated discourse in the Jewish pop culture world this year. But where tension and deep emotions have surrounded this conversation, the numerous praiseworthy Jewish performances, shows, characters and actors that we had the privilege of watching this year have served as a beautiful balm. In all their authentic Jewishness, the Almas for Jewish television for 5782 go to…
The Best Jewish Drama
Though this show came out in Israel in 5781, it came to Netflix in 5782, which we think makes a good enough excuse to give it this much-deserved award. The show is an entrancing portrayal of one Sephardic Jewish family — the Ermosas — whose members are cursed when it comes to love. It starts in Jerusalem in the 1920s, and season one concludes in 1942. The period melodrama, with its “Game of Thrones”-like opening sequence featuring a miniature recreation of the city of Jerusalem, beautifully portrays the sights, flavors and languages of the holy city. It has dialogue in English, Hebrew, Arabic and Ladino, and it’s laden with beautiful Ladino lullabies as well as mouth-watering Sephardic foods (served by family matriarch Mercada and sold at the Ermosas’ delicatessen).
The Best Jewish Comedy
Thanks to VPNs, Hey Alma’s Evelyn Frick might be one of the few people in North America to have seen “Kid Sister,” a comedy series from writer, producer and star Simone Nathan that is currently only streaming in New Zealand. And it is an absolute delight. The loosely autobiographical show tells the story of Lulu Emmanuel, a Modern Orthodox New Zealander who feels some intense pressure from her family to “marry kosher.” The only problem? The boyfriend Lulu cares about, Ollie, is very much not Jewish. And, oh yeah, she’s also pregnant by him. It would honestly be enough to win Best Jewish Comedy if “Kid Sister” were just genuinely and relatably Jewish – which it is – and drew out occasional laughter. But the fact of the matter is “Kid Sister” both centers Jewishness and is the kind of funny that leaves you breathless. (Plus, it’s the only show we’ve seen that has a Sukkot episode!) Red Arrow Studios recently acquired the global distribution rights for “Kid Sister,” so here’s hoping those of us in the Northern Hemisphere will be able to stream it very, very soon!
Bonus: an acceptance speech from Simone Nathan!!
The Best Jewish Character
As Lana Schwartz wrote, in season two of “Russian Doll,” Jewish actress Natasha Lyonne “brought even more of her own personal history to the forefront, giving viewers no shortage of Jewish history to explore (Lyonne is, herself, a descendant of Holocaust survivors). Nadia finds herself first in downtown Manhattan in 1982, in her pregnant mother’s body, then in her grandmother’s body in Budapest 1944, trying to secure the return of her family’s possessions after they’re stolen by the Nazis… More so than wealth, Nadia wants to prevent the irreparable rift between her grandmother and mother caused when her mother steals her grandmother’s Kruggerands, the gold coins that represent the last of the family’s riches from Europe… ‘Russian Doll’ focusing specifically on the loss of mothers makes sense, given the importance of motherhood and matrilineal ties in Judaism.” A wisecracking New Yorker fighting generational trauma? Doesn’t get much more Jewish than that.
Breakout TV Actress
From co-creators Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, “Reservation Dogs” is about four Indigenous teens and their dreams to escape the rural Oklahoma reservation where they live. From its almost entirely Native cast and crew to its sharp humor and sociopolitical commentary and the incredible acting performance, “Reservation Dogs” is one of the best shows on TV right now. It’s also undeniable that Anishinaabe Ashkenazi actress Sarah Podemski has contributed to that success. In her recurring role as Rita Smallhill, Podemski shines as the tough-yet-loving mother to main character Bear, providing a foil to his youthful foibles while also portraying the struggles of a single Native mom with tact and heart. Sarah’s performance on “Reservation Dogs,” a show steeped in dark humor, is made even more meaningful with the context that she is descended from survivors on both sides. (Her paternal grandfather is a Holocaust survivor and her maternal family members survived the residential school system in Canada.) As Sarah told Hey Alma last year, “Laughing through the tears and being able to see the bright side and see the humor in life, even when it’s the darkest of times, is something that Jews and Native people are really good at.”
Breakout TV Actor
While you might know Jewish actor Morgan Spector from 2020’s “The Plot Against America,” this past year was really his breakout moment. In HBO’s “The Gilded Age,” Morgan played new-money robber baron George Russell, captivating social media for one very particular aspect of his performance: being a hot railway daddy with a beard that just won’t quit. (Even us at Hey Alma were not above posting a photo of him on Instagram with the caption: “Dear Morgan Spector, we would like to eat babka off your abs please,” to which he actually responded!!!) However, he caught our attention for more than just his looks. As George Russell, Morgan skillfully balances the opposing natures of brutal businessman and loving family man that make up his character, all the while finding perfect onscreen chemistry with actress Carrie Coons, who plays his wife. For his part, Morgan told Hey Alma a narrative he would be interested in exploring in season two: “The history of American labor violence and labor struggle is really fascinating, and I think we have an opportunity in this show to touch on that. I mean I don’t think it would ever be the whole story. But it could be part of my storyline at some point. I would love that.” We simply have to stan.
Bonus: a (very saucy) acceptance speech from Morgan Spector!!