I love when I’m watching TV and something Jewish comes on. Even if I’m not paying attention, like when my wife is watching “Weeds” and one of its many Jewish themes pops up, I’m suddenly all eyes and ears. All it takes is a whisper of “bar mitzvah” or “Passover” or even “marble rye” for me to perk up.
But since I don’t watch prime time TV, and since I don’t have cable or satellite, my chances of catching offhand Jewish stuff are diminished. There was a great opportunity on network TV a few weeks ago: The season finale of Fox’s “Raising Hope” devoted a full half-hour to one of the characters learning about Judaism — in the form of a musical! Including one number in a Jewish deli! But, alas, I missed it.
Thanks to Roku, however, I have been catching more and more Jewish-themed TV shows and movies. Roku, like many other systems, allows you to stream videos from the Internet on your TV. For me, that mainly means I can watch Netflix on my TV.
Among Netflix’s limited number of instant viewing options is some great Jewish stuff, such as:
“Weeds.” The aforementioned Show-time series about a marijuana-selling mother is loaded with Jewish themes, thanks largely to creator Jenji Kohan. Season 1, episode 8 includes an unveiling, an Orthodox rabbi and a discussion of Jewish lineage. In season 2, one of the characters goes to rabbinical school. And in season 5, episode 8, a newborn is given a Hebrew name and a bris. All eight seasons are on Netflix instant viewing.
“Sixty-Six.” This 2006 film is a comedy about an awkward Jewish boy in London preparing for his bar mitzvah amid the fervor of the English soccer team and the 1966 World Cup. Often, the 93-minute movie is too much of a downer, but the Jewish content is constant and there are enough great/funny moments to make it worthwhile.
“OSS 117: Lost in Rio.” Three years before director Michel Hazanavius and actor Jean Dujardin created 2012 Oscar magic in “The Artist,” they teamed up on this “hidden” gem. Dujardin stars as a suave but bumbling secret agent who joins forces with a sexy Mossad agent trying to capture a Nazi blackmailer. It’s a complete romp, with many Jewish/Israel references, and a retro style and wit that put a smile on my face for the full 100 minutes.
“Wonder Years” bar mitzvah episode. Look for the 19th episode (season 2, episode 13) titled “Birthday Boy.” Kevin (Fred Savage) and his friend Paul get into a fight when Paul plans his bar mitzvah on the same day as Kevin’s birthday. The bar mitzvah talk starts right at the beginning of the episode, and there’s a cute scene when Kevin has dinner at his Jewish friend’s house.
“Gentleman’s Agreement.” To blow the lid off anti-Semitism in this 1947 classic, a journalist played by Gregory Peck goes undercover as a Jew and finds life is no bed of roses. Controversial in its time, it was nominated for eight Oscars, and won three: best picture, best supporting actress (Celeste Holm) and best director (Elia Kazan).
“Family Guy” has several Jewish-tinged episodes, but look for No. 129 (season 8, episode 2), titled “Family Goy.” After Peter’s wife discovers her mother is Jewish, Peter embraces Judaism in his own unique style. Funny stuff ensues, although some might think it goes beyond good taste. The Jewish plot doesn’t develop until seven minutes in, so stick with it (or avoid it entirely if you don’t like humor that really pushes the envelope).
“The Goldbergs.” This 1950s television show is an absolute charmer. Netflix added the 1955 season about six months ago, and it’s such a pleasure to watch each 30-minute episode. Sadly, there are only 10. Gertrude Berg, who wrote the show and stars as Molly Goldberg, created a family that oozes an unstated Jewishness as they go about their daily lives of suburban assimilation. Molly is a darling, Uncle David speaks with a Yiddish inflection as he cooks and cleans, and the show is a heartwarming treat.
Of course, if that’s too sweetsy and old-timey, click on over to Amazon.com and order the hilarious “Palestinian Chicken” episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” for only $1.99. I can do that on my Roku, too.
Andy Altman-Ohr is the managing editor of j. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.