Jews in the News: Pamela Adlon, Matthew Broderick and Debra Messing

Broadcast and Cable Offerings: Catch-Up and Look Ahead

The FX drama/comedy series “Better Things", now in its fourth season, has received many Emmy nominations. I finally had the time to (quarantine) binge watch it and you should, too. It’s really good. The four seasons mesh together in logical plot arcs. “Better Things” is semi-autobiographical.  PAMELA ADLON, 53, stars as Sam Fox, a Hollywood actress who works steadily, but never lands a big star role. 

Adlon co-created the series, usually writes or co-writes the scripts, and frequently directs episodes. She won an Emmy as voice of Bobby Hill on the animated series “King of the Hill”. She had major supporting roles on the Showtime series “Californication” and the FX series “Louie.”

Like Sam, Adlon has been acting in films and TV shows since she was 12. Like Sam, Adlon’s late father (DON SEGALL) was a successful Jewish comedy writer. Like Sam, Adlon’s mother is British. In real life, Adlon’s mother converted to Judaism and, in a recent interview, Adlon said her mother doesn’t like to be called a convert. She thinks of herself as just plain Jewish.

There are “clues” that Phyllis, Sam’s mother, is a convert to Judaism, too. In the 2nd season we learned that Phyllis (who is much more acerbic than Adlon’s real mother) was disowned by her parents when she married a Jew. Finally, like Sam, Adlon is the mother of three daughters, and, like Sam, she raised her daughters with little help from her ex-husband.

Sam views herself and her daughters as Jewish. However, except for Sam often toasting “L’Chayim”, there is little Jewish “going on”. (Adlon says she and her real-life daughters observe the High Holidays and Passover). The April 23 episode, entitled “Batceñera”, may fill-in many “Jewish gaps”. Sam’s middle daughter, Frankie, is almost 15 years old. In a previous episode, Frankie told Sam that she wanted a quinceñera (a coming-of-age celebration for 15-year-old Hispanic girls). Sam is not sold: she points out that Frankie isn’t a Latina and that she could have a bat mitzvah at any age. “Batceñera” details are sparse, but Adlon promises the episode will be “very Jewish.” My guess it that Frankie has a combo bat mitzvah and quinceñera (Many encore FX showings. All four seasons on Hulu).

Other “cool” things about “Better Things”: In the second season, we finally see Sam’s only sibling, her brother, Marion, who lives in Texas. He is played by the always entertaining KEVIN POLLAK, 62. Marion’s role expands in the 4th season. Another recurring character, Sunny, Sam’s best friend, is played by ALYSIA REINER, 49. We see the bar mitzvah celebration of Sunny’s son in the 2nd season. In the third season, MATTHEW BRODERICK, 58, appears in a few episodes as a psychologist who Sam is referred to. By coincidence, they were summer camp sweethearts.

In the fourth season, Sam attends the gay wedding of an Indian-American friend to a nice Southern white guy. The white guy is played by Emmy nominee RANDY RAINBOW, 38. Rainbow has become an internet sensation. He writes very clever musical numbers (often political) and sings them himself (all on Youtube). Recently, STEVEN SONDHEIM, 90, and Carol Burnett praised him from their “quarantine quarters”. A recent Rainbow song is “Social Distance.” Rainbow does a lovely job singing Tom Waits’ great song “Martha” in his “Better Things” episode. By the way, while “Rainbow” is a perfect last name for a gay entertainer, it actually is Randy’s original last name. His father changed the family name from Ribner to Rainbow before Randy was born.

The series finale of the “re-boot” of “Will and Grace” will air on NBC on April 23 at 8PM. It will be preceded by a special, at 7:30PM, of clips of the series’ most iconic and memorable moments. The final episode finds Grace (DEBRA MESSING, 51) about to give birth and Will about to leave New York City.

“Never Have I Ever” is a 10-episode Netflix comedy (released on April 27) about Devi, a first-generation Indian American teen girl. It is inspired by the childhood of Indian-American actress Mindy Kaling. ADAM SHAPIRO, 40ish, appears in 7 episodes as Mr. Shapiro, a schoolteacher. Shapiro has mostly been a stage actor. His wife, KATIE LOWES, 38, had a starring role on “Scandal” (Quinn Perkins). Newcomer JAREN LEWISON, 20, has a big supporting role as Ben, a classmate of Devi. I know Lewison is Jewish because his bar mitzvah announcement is on the website of his family’s Dallas synagogue.


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