NEW YORK — Be honest. Each of us secretly believes there should be a television show based on our lives. It’s a pipe dream, I know, and I’m not exactly saying the newly released British comedy “The Jewish Enquirer” could also be called “The Jordan Hoffman Story,” but there were moments while watching this show where I had to hit pause for a moment to collect myself: Has creator Gary Sinyor been reading my email?
“The Jewish Enquirer” is currently streaming for those with Amazon subscriptions in the UK. In the United States and Israel you don’t need to have a membership to watch; each episode of the six-part series rents for less than the cost of a movie ticket — and since all the movie theaters are closed right now, it is very much worth it.
In the show, actor Tim Downie (whom you have seen in “The King’s Speech,” “Paddington” and “Outlander”) plays Paul, a freelance journalist for, as the opening credits boast, “the UK’s 4th Biggest Jewish Publisher.” (Perhaps not currently: The UK’s two main Jewish outlets, The Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News, recently announced liquidation.) While the publication you are currently reading has impressive circulation numbers, working in Jewish media can sometimes feel like existing in a parallel universe.
“What’s the Jangle?” Paul’s never-seen editor yells over the phone when Paul tries to pitch him a story about crime in his neighborhood. (Jangle, you’ll eventually put together, is “Jewish angle.”) “Was she Jewish?” the editor asks about someone who was burgled. “I can’t very well ask,” Paul sighs.
Earlier, Paul is dispatched to cover anti-Semitic writing on a wall, but not before asking if he can do it tomorrow. “It’ll be gone by tomorrow!” the editor cries, wondering what good a “Wall Cleaned By Do-Gooders” headline would do.
Paul’s rummaging for “Jangles” certainly got a belly laugh out of me, as did his checking the paper’s homepage to discover his latest story bumped for an above-the-fold “Cloudy Weather in Tel Aviv — Exclusive.”
But one does not need to freelance for a Jewish news outlet to enjoy this show. It is, by design, meant for everyone.
Paul is a kinder, softer version of Larry David. He isn’t a misanthrope (he’s actually a great deal of fun) but wherever there exists an opportunity to make a socially awkward decision, that’s what he’ll do. With his even more clueless pal Simon (Josh Howie), the pair (unmarried, and unlucky in love) will frequently start the day with a simple task (get a key duplicated, take the nephew for a haircut, find a mohel) and then spiral into a well of misunderstanding and embarrassment.
Unlike the spiritual grandfather from this sort of British show’s ur-text, John Cleese in “Fawlty Towers,” Downie’s Paul doesn’t lose his cool. Okay, he’ll occasionally let out a scream (oftentimes in the direction of his high-strung sister, played with a crystalline vulgarity by Lucy Montgomery) but at heart Paul is a problem-solver. It’s this goodwill that leads him to setting fire to Simon’s date’s house or rubbing an angry Irishman’s foreskin with a feather. (Don’t ask, don’t ask, just know that in context it’s the right thing to do.)
There’s a universality to Paul’s stumbling through life, but beneath this there is an added level of electricity of being Jewish in modern Britain. Paul encounters no violent or even direct anti-Semitism. Indeed, most non-Jews Paul encounters seem somewhat keen to be conversing with a Jew. But through his eyes we encounter no shortage of what Prof. Deborah Lipstadt refers to as “accidental” anti-Semitism. (The weirdest in “The Jewish Enquirer” likely being the ardent vegan wondering if Paul would suggest the synagogues to cease using animal hide parchment when printing new Torahs.)
Importantly, however, Gary Sinyor’s scripts are human enough to show that Paul can easily slip into his own pits of inadvertent racism, homophobia, fatophobia, dwarfophobia and anything else you can name. (“Yes, I could go as an imam,” he says when planning for a costume party, “but I’d like to live.”) What “The Jewish Enquirer” makes plain, and which is frequently forgotten, is that how one behaves can be far more important than what one might occasionally slip-up and say.
And luckily, for those of us watching, the things Paul says are usually very, very funny.
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