An amazing thing is happening in television right now, there’s actually something good on. The highly bingeable Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Israel’s newest hit to stream on Netflix, Shtisel both offer an entertaining, smart, well written and gorgeously produced backdrop to highlight a Jewish family. In many ways these shows are complete opposites, but what makes them both so addictive is what they have in common: a seemingly inescapable extended Jewish family meddling in everything.
Today’s millennials are accused of being the ‘umbilical cord’ generation. We left for college with our cell phones, and called our moms on the way to class each morning. We moved back in when the economy tanked, and researchers in historical, sociological and psychological disciplines are all trying to figure out why we’re just so stunted.
Maisel and Shtisel’s central characters also suffer some of these typical millennial tropes. They still live at home, they can’t secure a normal successful career or marriage and most entertaining of all, they constantly disappoint their overbearing Jewish parents. Perhaps this is also the most believable and relatable central storyline in both series – and also the most appealing.
Set in the ultra Orthodox community of present-day Geula in Jerusalem, Shtisel follows the life of Akivah Shtisel whose bachelorhood beguiles even the most seasoned shadchan and his inappropriate career pursuits cause shame on his family. Set in a starkly contrasting 1950’s Manhattan, Mrs. Maisel follows the similarly conflicted lead character of Miriam (Midge) Maisel, a culturally affiliated Jew who also pursues a career path embarrassing for her respectable family, a female comedian.
Even though Midge Maisel’s parents’ dramatics and Kiveh Shtisel’s father’s antics continually create a tornado of drama and misdirection for their offspring, Midge and Kiveh forgive them again and again and return to the comforts of home each time. The parents in both shows literally live for their children. When Midge’s marriage falls apart her father, a mathematics professor at Columbia University, can hardly teach a lesson to his class and her mother can’t get out of bed. Kiveh’s father Shulem Shtisel obsessively prays for a marriage for his son and spends countless hours meeting with the local matchmaker trying to make something happen. When inevitably Kiveh’s screws it up again, Shulem can’t bear to even be in the same room as him.
In Judaism it’s not just a mitzvah to create a family, it’s THE mitzvah: to be fruitful and multiply and to pass along Judaism from one generation to the next, l’dor v dor. This ancient value has resulted in the core narrative of both of these hit shows, and Jews and non-Jews alike are fascinated by it. Perhaps with today’s continually isolating lifestyle of long hours in a cubicle, followed by an evening face-timing a endless scroll on a tiny screen, and a trendy commitment to self love, what viewers of Shtisel and Maisel are looking for is that basic human need that Judaism has so long triumphed: the support network of a (pestering, but loving) family. And maybe, millenials aren’t so ‘stunted’ after all. Maybe we’re just trying to figure out how to grow up without growing out of our most important lifelong relationship, the one with our family.