Watching: A Beautiful Israeli Drama

«Shtisel» is back.

By Margaret Lyons

Dear Watchers,

NBC has renewed the comedy “Mr. Mayor” for a second season. The series was created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock and stars Ted Danson as the hapless mayor of Los Angeles.

Have a safe and sunny week.

I want a full-on prestige drama

Michael Aloni in a scene from “Shtisel.”Netflix

‘Shtisel’

When to watch: Seasons 1 and 2 are streaming now, on Netflix, and Season 3 arrives Thursday.

“Shtisel” is an Israeli series (in Hebrew and Yiddish, with subtitles) set within an ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem. Slow and beautiful and layered, it’s a family drama without neat conclusions, in which almost all communication is indirect and behavior always trumps intention.

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Shulem Shtisel (Doval’e Glickman) is the aging patriarch of the family, a rabbi at a small school who in Season 1 is still mourning the recent death of his wife. A lot of “Shtisel” is shaped around grief, and the characters frequently dream or daydream about their deceased loved ones. It’s more wistful than straight-up sad, though — not a fresh wound but a scar. Akiva (Michael Aloni) is the youngest son, still unmarried at the beginning of the show and secretive about his passion for drawing and painting. Giti (Neta Riskin), his sister, has five children and relies heavily on her eldest daughter (played by Shira Haas, from “Unorthodox”) for support. There is a lot of matchmaking.

Early on, “Shtisel” reminded me of “Six Feet Under”: A family with adult children processes the death of a parent, and ghostliness is woven into the vibe. But after watching all of it, I think it’s more like “Mad Men,” where unspoken hurt governs so much of the characters’ lives, and where they often speak in stories — whether that’s through an ad they pitch or a parable from the Talmud they cite. It’s so hard to say what you mean.

Most of the show is aesthetically unfussy, but I keep thinking about one particularly beautiful scene. Shulem is teaching a lesson about an eclipse to his young charges, and he’s holding a little model of the solar system; he shuts off the lights and turns on its sun. “Rabbi, you look just like God!” one little boy says, and while Shulem briefly scolds him, it’s hardly an insult. Later, he lectures Akiva about gender roles and instructs him to “stand firm, like the sun” and let his future wife circle him. He leaves out the fact that even if Akiva were to anchor a heliocentric relationship, Shulem would still loom larger, bigger than the solar system, bigger than space.

Seasons 1 and 2 of “Shtisel” are each 12 episodes, but the new Season 3 is only nine, and it does feel a little truncated. And while some of the arcs lean a little soapier this season, nothing goes too far. Season 3 takes place about seven years after Season 1, in the show as in life, and watching the young actors genuinely grow up makes everything feel even truer, more aching.

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If you finished your “Sopranos” rewatch and want something less violent but just as rich, or if it’s been a while since you had the mental real estate for a varsity drama but you feel ready, watch this.

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Also this week

A scene from “Frontline: Death Is Our Business.”L. Kasimu Harris/Frontline/PBS
  • The five-hour mini-series “Asian Americans” is streaming free on the PBS website.
  • If you miss “Toddlers and Tiaras,” or you’re simply a livestock or contrived-drama enthusiast, “Pig Royalty,” about families who participate in competitive pig showing, arrives Tuesday on Discovery+.
  • “Frontline: Death Is Our Business,” which follows Black-owned funeral homes in New Orleans during the pandemic, airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. on PBS. (Check local listings.)
  • “The Day Sports Stood Still,” a documentary about when sports and society halted in March 2020, airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on HBO.
  • If you just want to watch a show in which someone says, “Bakers, you have one hour remaining!” and you don’t really care about much else, the upbeat, episodic “Baketopia” arrives on HBO Max on Thursday.
  • The final two episodes of “Superstore” air Thursday at 8 and 8:30 p.m. on NBC.

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