“I hate spunk!”
Three words in the pilot and I was hooked on The Mary Tyler Moore Show for seven seasons. (The last two of which I was fortunate to write episodes for, one of them, good.)
Before that, during The Dick Van Dyke Show pilot, Laura Petrie worries about her son Richie’s “giveaway” health symptom making her reluctant to go out, the giveaway health symptom being,
“He won’t eat his cupcake.”
I immediately signed up for five years.
It doesn’t take much. A signaling indicator, saying,
“This is for me.”
Which returns me to Shtisel.
I watched all the available 24 episodes. I do not want to watch them again – because some of them, ringing sensitive “Memory Bells”, can be pretty tough going. But, y’know… for years after visiting the Buffalo Bill Historical Museum in Cody, Wyoming, I used to call up the “Gift Shop” and order "Wild West" wall calendars, just so I could hear the place was still there.
I feel the same about Shtisel. I have an urge to look at its Netflix promotional photos, to recall it gloriously exists, beaming thatI once joyfully watched it.
Forget the attraction stemming from its portraying an intensely regulated substratum of “My People.”
Let’s talk about the writing.
Not all the writing. Not the language. (Which came in snippets of cryptic translation.) Not the rich and truthful characterization. Not the thematic intention of a drama derived from the understanding that pious people are not exempt from personal difficulties – some of which emanate from being pious people – and that, in the end, we all do the best that we can. You don’t have to be Jewish to think, “Minus the ear locks, that’s us.”
Forget the chuckling aphorisms – which I’m not sure are actual aphorisms – like the one about Orthodox Jews and ritually “unclean” house pets.
“If a Jew has a dog, he’s not a Jew, or it’s not a dog.”
You not going to hear that on Big Brother.
I focus alone on Shticel’s unique samples of specialness, the “I hate spunk!” moments, triggering viewer loyalty, awe, and cap-tipping admiration.
It’s the stuff that doesn’t need to be in there. In fact, it has no business being in there – as in, “How did they ever come up with that?” – but it is.
And best for me, I never in a million years saw it coming.
Sixty-three year-old Rabbi Shtisel, stands on a chair, changing an overhead light bulb. The chair suddenly topples, sending “Reb” Shtisel tumbling awkwardly to the floor.
He lies there unable to move, writhing in clear physical distress. After an extended stay in this precarious “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” predicament, “Reb” Shtisel reaches into his pocket, takes out a package of cigarettes, lights up, and, lying immobilized on his back, begins contentedly to smoke.
The step after the dramatic step? (Which turned out only to be the “set-up.”)
I found it delicious.
A smaller though no less wonderful interlude:
The younger Shtisel, a promising artist, confronts his secular gallery owner/boss, concerning a serious conflict, but not before the gallery owner insists that, while discussing this troubling concern, they both enjoy popsicles.
On a non-verbal level of bountiful delights, there is a daughter on the show who looks exactly like her onscreen mother. Nobody ever does that. You take the best actors who walk in the door. Here, they held firm on compatible noses.
A show committed to assiduous detail and surprise makes me jealous, but more importantly,
By the way, before exiting the subject,
While returning to Shtisel to catch the following episode, this happened.
One day, after watching “Episode 9”, I turn off my TV. I return the next day for “Episode 10”, I click on Netflix, and find, brightly bordered and ready to go
... is “Episode 12.”
How did that happen?
It’s like, in the interim, my television watched two episodes of Shtisel without me. The TV’s was on “Episode 12”, and I’m back on “Episode 10.”
Is it possible a person’s electronic device, contracting the passionate “bug” of its owner, can watch two episodes of Shtisel entirely on its own?
Can TV’s watch TV?
They do other new stuff. Why not that?
There is the chance that, after watching them alone, my TV decides I would not like episodes “10” and “11” and jumps me protectively to “12.”
Or is it something separate from technology?
There is definitely mysticism in Shtisel.