asher63 (asher63) wrote,

Shtisel - Season 1.

So I've finished watching the first season of 'Shtisel', the story of a haredi (ultra-orthodox) Jewish family in Israel. The series is innovative for Israeli television, following in the path of 'Srugim' in depicting the daily lives of religiously observant people in Israel. (Ori Elon, co-creator of 'Shtisel', was also one of the writers for 'Srugim'.) Israeli media, like its American and European counterparts, is generally controlled by secular liberals, so a lifelike and sympathetic treatment of orthodox Jewish communities has been a rarity until recently.

I really wanted to like 'Shtisel'. After the first season, I have to give it an overall "meh".

First, the positives. Shira Haas, as the precocious, 12ish Ruchami Weiss, is ABSOLUTELY PHENOMENAL. (The actress, born in 1995, must have been around 17 or so at the time of filming.) Ruchami at first resents being forced into the role of parent by her absentee father; but once accustomed to it, she does not want to give it up. She despises her father for abandoning the family. You can feel the smoldering rage in her eyes, practically burning holes in your screen.

The show succeeds in its overall aim, I think. The creators clearly did not want to do 'Fiddler on the Roof'; they weren't interested in sentimental cliches. I never felt the show was demeaning or condescending to the orthodox.

So, the weak points? To begin with, the whole off-again-on-again romance between Akiva and the older, twice-widowed Elisheva was simply exhausting. It just dragged on and on, and after 12 episodes, they basically ended up back where they started. Elisheva gets on a plane and flies out of the show, and that's that. (I peeked at the credits, and she does not return in future seasons.) We never find out what happened to Elisheva's two prior husbands, or anything about her background. Then what was the point of the whole thing? I lost all sympathy for both characters and wondered why I'd bothered caring about them at all.

Also I found some aspects of the show just a little too artsy. The scenes with Elisheva's two husbands appearing to her were compelling, I thought; but overall there were too many scenes of dreams, visions, people speaking from beyond the grave, and so on. It got distracting.

And then there's the little details like the radio playing Bach (followed later in the episode by the appearance of the Hebrew-speaking German caretaker, nicknamed 'Golem'); the frequent references to European literature; Shulem and Akiva regularly complaining of feeling "too cold"; and so on. You wonder if it is all supposed to Mean Something. But I got kind of tired of that too.

So, those are my likes and dislikes about the first season of Shtisel. With some reservations, I'd still say it was worth my time and I'm glad I watched. I will probably go on to season 2 out of curiosity.

One interesting thing about the show, from a language standpoint, was listening to all the varieties of Hebrew (and some Yiddish) spoken by the characters. The older generation tend to speak Yiddish-accented Hebrew, or Hebrew mixed with Yiddish, among themselves; the children, on the other hand, sound completely Israeli. (In at least one scene, the parents switch to Yiddish in front of the kids so the kids won't understand.) Even if you don't know Hebrew, I think you can hear this difference if you listen to the dialog.
Tags: entertainment, hebraica, hebrew, israel

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