The best Jewish shows and movies of 2021
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EntertainmentLooking back at the past year

The best Jewish shows and movies of 2021

From the controversial (“My Unorthodox Life”) to the meh (“The Shrink Next Door”), it was an active year of Jewish-themed entertainment.

Adrien Brody in HBO’s “Succession” 
(Courtesy of Macall Polay/HBO)
Adrien Brody in HBO’s “Succession” (Courtesy of Macall Polay/HBO)

From the familiar (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) to the obscure (“The Club”), from the educational (“Jerusalem”) to the absurd (“Big Mouth”), from the controversial (“My Unorthodox Life”) to the meh (“The Shrink Next Door”), it was an active year of Jewish-themed entertainment.

Here’s a comprehensive list of the best Jewish-themed shows and movies of 2021.

Shows
HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”
In its 11th season and third decade (it started in 2000), “Curb” has taken on a timeless quality.

It doesn’t matter which cultural moment we’re living through in American life. Larry David’s perverse but incisive questioning of social conventions and moral codes is always hilarious and thought-provoking.

Netflix’s “The Club”
Unless you’re an avid watcher of Jewish shows (my wife) or Turkish shows (my grandma), “The Club” won’t come up on your Netflix algorithm. But it’s worth trying to find.

The six-episode season has several good qualities, starting with its Jewish protagonists. Plus, who knew the Jews had such a long history in Turkey?

Netflix’s “Big Mouth”
Streaming’s endless library offers wacky creators a lot of space to be their weirdest selves. That’s what “Big Mouth,” an animated coming-of-age sitcom, is for Jewish comedian Nick Kroll, its creator, writer and primary voice actor.

But at its best, “Big Mouth” also sheds light on the awkward, painful and utterly hilarious experience of going through puberty. And season five this year offered a new twist: What happens when teenagers learn to hate and resent each other?

My Unorthodox Life: Season 1. Episode 2, Becoming a Haart. Pictured: (L-R) (Robert Brotherton and Julia Haart. c. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021)

My Unorthodox Life
Love Julia Haart as an embodiment of female empowerment or hate her as a denigrator of Orthodox Judaism, you can’t deny that she has your attention.

Any nine-episode binge series that has two Wikipedia sections devoted to its critical reception is, at the very least, starting a conversation.

CNN’s “Jerusalem”

Forget your preconceived political notions about CNN. After all, Fox News is known for having a good polling operation. These cable news channels can do some things right.

In CNN’s case, “Jerusalem” is one of them. It’s a great beginner’s history lesson about the holy city, as told by history professors/total nerds.

Adrien Brody’s guest appearance on HBO’s “Succession”
Maybe you don’t watch “Succession.” Well, you should, because it’s the best show on TV right now.

And once you’re caught up, you will enjoy this tense season three episode that features Brody, the greatest living Jewish actor, playing a Jewish investor who holds the balance of power of a WASP-y corporation in his hands.

The episode also touches on antisemitism in a subtle, nuanced and even multi-generational fashion. It was one of the better modern portrayals of that perpetual illness.

Movies
“Upheaval”
Menachem Begin was a soldier in the Zionist movement, the founder of Israel’s conservative Likud party and, eventually, Israel’s sixth prime minister from 1977 to 1983. Described as a “terrorist” by the British government as a young man, Begin would grow up to preside over the Camp David Accords with Egypt.

In other words, Begin is a fascinating character. And this movie does him justice.

It’s lean, colorful and revealing. It also homes in on the theme that defined Begin’s life: Jews were not going to stand down anymore. They were going to fight.

“Tick, Tick… Boom!”

“Rent” playwright Jonathan Larson’s semi-autobiographical story got the Lin-Manuel Miranda treatment in this 2021 adaptation. It’s a dramatic story about the Jewish playwright’s struggle to make it, and his uncertainty about his career choice.

When those are the notes, Miranda is probably the guy to play the music. Larson himself died in 1996.

“Asia”
This Israeli film focusing on a mother-daughter story stars Jewish actress Shira Haas of “Shtisel” and “Unorthodox” fame. Haas plays the 17-year-old daughter, Vika, of a 35-year-old, Russian expat single mother, Asia, portrayed by Alena Yiv.

While Asia works long hours to make ends meet, Vika starts hanging out with skaters, smoking weed and drinking. But over the course of the movie, they form a gradual bond.

Somehow, too, according to a July review in the Exponent, that bond was uplifting without being overly sentimental. PJC

Jarrad Saffren writes for the Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication

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