Jewish TV has come a long way since the The Goldbergs aired in the 1950s. Shows like Seinfeld, The Nanny and Curb Your Enthusiasm featured Jewish characters and Jewish themes, while Jerry Bruckheimer, Rod Serling and Norman Lear have become legends behind the camera. Now, 22 years after Seinfeld made “yada yada” a part of the American everyday vocabulary, Jewish stories are being told on TV all the time. In this era of peak TV, it can be hard to keep track of it all, so here, in no particular order, is your handy guide to some of the most popular Jewish shows to stream today.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Created by Gilmore Girls‘ Amy Sherman-Palladino, this Emmy-winning comedy stars Rachel Brosnahan (House of Cards) as Midge Maisel, a 1950s Jewish housewife who blows up her life to pursue a career as a stand-up comedian. Along for the ride are Alex Borstein (Family Guy) as her angry yet lovable manager and the perfectly cast Tony Shalhoub (Monk) as her disapproving father. The show is fast and slick, with jokes landing so fast you may have to watch it twice just to catch them all. One thing you won’t miss is its Jewish voice that, while sometimes over exaggerated—like Midge’s convert sister-in-law desperately trying to prove her Jewishness by visiting Israel 11 times and buying the largest mezuzah known to man—speaks directly and truthfully to its Jewish audience in a way that allows for both mockery and pride. (Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.)
While Mrs. Maisel provides the shtick, Broad City brings the chutzpah. This brazen and unapologetic comedy stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer as two Jewish millennials just trying to figure it all out. The sitcom takes some time to embrace its leads’ Jewish heritage and culture, but when it does, it refuses to hold back, tackling everything from the Holocaust to Birthright. More importantly, the characters embrace their Judaism in fresh ways that go beyond the classic tropes. “Now I know that being Jewish is about being resilient,” Ilana says in season five, which aired on February 28, 2019. “Having the strength to survive the Holocaust, perpetual exile, as well as being able to carry a Stag table to the parking lot of Ikea at 91 years old.” If that’s not Jewish, then I don’t know what is. (Available to stream on Hulu.)
The Kominsky Method
We all grow old. It’s an inevitable fact of life. But despite this universal experience, we rarely get to see it happen on the big or small screens. With The Kominsky Method, creator Chuck Lorre (The Big Bang Theory) aims to change that, with an emotional, heartfelt and sometimes devastating portrayal of what it means to grow old. The comedy stars Michael Douglas (Ant-Man) and Alan Arkin (Dumbo) as two grumpy Jewish men trying to make sense of a world that seems to be moving on without them. It’s the perfect show for your Jewish grandfather—if you can teach him to log into Netflix. (Available to stream on Netflix.)
This dramedy about a Jewish family that discovers that their father Mort (Arrested Development’s Jeffrey Tambor, who was fired from the show after allegations of sexual harassment were made against him) identifies as a woman made history with its portrayal of trans characters on TV. However, it was also a trailblazer in its authentic take on its Jewish characters, with the most significant portrait coming from Kathryn Hahn’s (who, against all odds, is not Jewish) Rabbi Raquel Fein, who, like many of us, struggles to balance her Judaism with her personal life. (Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.)
This comedy about a rich Jewish family forced to move to a small Canadian town after losing all its wealth is not Jewish in the way that Transparent and Mrs. Maisel are. It does not raise questions about Jewish identity or present comedic insights into Jewish culture. Like The Goldbergs, it acknowledges the Jewishness of its characters without making it a central aspect of their identities. However, that does not stop it from being one of the most lovable shows on TV. The series has slowly been gaining a following, and with its recent Emmy nominations—including Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series—there has never been a better time to get on the bandwagon. (Available to stream on Netflix.)
While it may seem strange to include a show about a Muslim millennial (played by creator Ramy Youssef), I personally found this comedy to be the most Jewish series on this list. The two faiths share many similarities, and Jewish viewers (especially Modern Orthodox Jews) will find that many of the titular character’s travails are reminiscent of their own. Ramy’s struggle of balancing being a “good Muslim” with drugs, sex and social media is an experience that many “good Jews” will easily identify with. His quest to make his Ramadan meaningful, and to be more observant of its laws, brought to mind how many Jews I know approach the Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur. His visit to Egypt reminded me of a Birthright trip to Israel or the first days of a post-high school gap year. Most importantly, Ramy is an honest and serious portrayal of religion that is not dramatized or radicalized, one that will help Jews understand not just the Islamic experiences, but their own as well. (Available to stream on Hulu.)
Sam Gelman is a news editor at CBR, where he covers comics, movies and TV. He is also the communications and program officer at the Yeshiva University Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought. You can follow him on Twitter @SamMgelman.