Jill Kargman is a modern Jewish mother in ‘Odd Mom Out’
Following Mark Twain’s famous advice to “write what you know,” Jill Kargman penned satirical stories about being a mom who didn’t fit the mold of the perfect Upper East Side Manhattan socialite. Then she turned those tales into the hit Bravo series “Odd Mom Out,” in which she stars as a fictionalized — but emphatically Jewish — version of herself.
With the second episode of its second season set on Yom Kippur and, Jill Kargman promises, Jewish references sprinkled throughout the series, “The humor is very Jewish,” she said. “We embrace my ‘Jewyness.’ ”
But you don’t have to be Jewish — or a mom — to appreciate the humor of “Odd Mom Out,” which returns June 20 at 10 p.m.
“I don’t think it’s about parenting. I think it’s about fitting in and being an outsider, and that’s a universal theme,” Kargman said, noting that teens and gay men have embraced her show. So have straight men who got hooked by watching with their wives and girlfriends.
Lisa Edelstein returns in ‘Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce’
With its frank, funny dialogue and authentic take on adult relationships and life in Los Angeles, “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” returns Dec. 1 to Bravo for its second season, providing a plum role for “House, M.D.” and “The West Wing” actress Lisa Edelstein. Edelstein plays Abby Shoshanna McCarthy, a Jewish (on her mother’s side) writer navigating newly single life with the help of her divorced friends. In Season 2, former marriage-advice maven Abby has reinvented herself as a happily single “Face of Divorce” columnist, but that’s complicated by the fact that she and her estranged husband, Jake (Paul Adelstein), have secretly rekindled their romance. “When we last saw Abby in the finale of Season 1, things were still pretty confusing for her, relationship-wise,” Edelstein said in an email interview. “Season 2 starts just a matter of days later, and you will see Abby and Jake try and give things a go just one more time, to see if they’ve learned enough in their painful time apart to actually save their marriage. Now that she has inadvertently become the face of divorce, staying with her husband is as threatening to her burgeoning new career as leaving him was in the early part of Season 1. She is still trying to be all things for all people and it really bites her in the ass, big time.”
It’s a predicament that rings true for Edelstein.
“Abby’s journey reminds me of my own when I was in my 20s,” she said. “Lots of mistakes and misjudgments due to inexperience in the big, bad world of dating. Meanwhile, her career is taking off in an unexpected direction and taking her out of her comfort zone. In other words, the s— hits the fan, and hilarity ensues. And crying and yelling, too.”
The character’s vulnerability, flaws and foibles are the most attractive element for her as an actress. “Despite the effort she puts into putting on a good face, she’s completely incapable of it,” Edelstein said. “She’s clumsy, she tries hard, she’s expressive, she’s fun. It’s an amazing job for me. I get to do physical comedy, drama, dramedy, all rolled into one job. I count my lucky stars everyday, even when I’m too exhausted to count.”
Abby is the latest in a long line of Jewish characters Edelstein has played, including a rabbi on the sitcom “Nothing Sacred,” an Orthodox woman in an episode of “Family Law” and Dr. Lisa Cuddy on “House,” a role she played for seven years.
“I don’t do it on purpose, but somehow 90 percent of the characters I play become Jewish by Episode 2. I guess I don’t pass,” she said, putting Lisa Cuddy, Rhonda Roth on “Relativity” and, especially, Abby McCarthy at the top of that list. “I’m sort of living my favorite experience right this second.”
Edelstein enjoys the opportunity to show Abby’s Jewish side, and that arose again this season, but not without calamity.
“We have a family dinner at one point this season, and on the day we shot it, we realized what a great opportunity it would be to make it another Shabbat dinner. Even though the dinner would be almost over, you’d still see the remnants of the ritual: candles burning down, crumbs of bread on the challah plate,” she said, noting that “a sudden inspiration to make it a Shabbat dinner is not so easily done in Vancouver,” where the series is shot.
“We have a new, wonderful set-decorating team this year and they had no idea what Shabbat candles looked like, or where to find a challah, once we explained what a challah was. If you have never seen a challah, I have no idea what you’d think ‘braided egg bread’ actually looked like — probably some monstrous combination of scrambled eggs twisted over a loaf of white bread,” she said.
She has fond memories of real-life Shabbat dinners and other Jewish rituals celebrated in her youth.
“Relative to the people I grew up around, ours was a very traditional household,” she said. “My grandparents were Orthodox, my family was Conservative, our house was kosher, we hadShabbat dinner every Friday night and went to synagogue on Saturdays. We built sukkahs, we played dreidel (although I still don’t understand that game) and we had what seemed like 18 sets of dishes and silverware.”
One particular tradition proved to be pivotal and influenced her choice of career.
“My bat mitzvah was the first time I realized I had a completely captive audience. I sang that haftarah like I was Ethel Merman,” Edelstein said. “Other than that, I was a tiny, flat-chested, disco dancing girl with large, plastic-framed glasses, a head too big for her body and hair that was somewhat desperately blown into a (very unsuccessful) flip.”
Edelstein has been to Israel four times, “first as a little girl visiting relatives and the last time just a few years ago, on a trip with my now-husband and a bunch of the folks from ‘House.’ It’s wonderful, complicated and intense but it’s hard to have a free and easy, all encompassing opinion on the place as a whole, as it’s also the hotbed of many opposing ideas.”
Jewish tradition continues to be important to Edelstein.
When my husband and I got married it was important to both of us to have a wedding riddled with ritual,” said Edelstein, who married Robert Russell (né Uswetsky, a Russian Jew) in May 2014.
“To me, it’s like an invisible ribbon that binds me to the generations before me and the ones yet to come, like touching the past and the future simultaneously,” she said. “We have Shabbat dinner with the kids, too. It’s very sweet. I hope their memories of these things help inform them when it’s time for them to make a family and a home life. But either way, I’m glad we were able to share ours.”
“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” premieres at 10 p.m. Dec. 1 on Bravo.
Top Chef episode 5 re-cap: It’s war
Opinion: The bad, the worse and the ugly
A painfully unappealing, unemployed woman in her late 30s with sumo wrestler thighs who wears 10-inch heels and a micro skirt to push around a pink stroller in which she carries her pair of Chihuahuas; a less unattractive, also unemployed woman in her late 30s who wears 10-inch heels and sequined tops to (I’m not kidding) target practice; a short, fat, bald real-estate developer who builds cheap houses and expects to sell them in the instant for millions of dollars; a gay real-estate broker with a thick black mustache who touts the extraordinary vigor of his “Persian” male organ; a (we presume) heterosexual (what else?) real estate broker with gelled hair, swollen biceps and a nose job badly in need of a nose job.
The sumo girl insists in every scene that she “refuses” to get married, though evidence of any prospects is entirely absent; the gunslinger shares with the camera her hatred of “ants and ugly people,” and HGH (human growth hormone) man sprays cologne inside his shorts and tells tall tales about how he used to be a millionaire.
That, ladies and gentlemen, about sums up the first episode of the much-dreaded “Shahs of Sunset,” purportedly about Los Angeles’ Iranian-American community, due to premiere March 11 on Bravo. To say that it’s “Bad” would be a redundancy, given that it’s a so-called “reality show.” These days, even the most trusting television viewer knows there’s nothing “real” about reality TV. As Time magazine put it six years ago, “Quotes are manufactured, crushes and feuds constructed out of whole cloth, episodes planned in multi-act ‘storyboards’ before taping, scenes stitched together out of footage shot days apart.”
Everything — from the characters’ wardrobes, to their speech, to their relationships, and even their homes and cars and purported millions — is dreamed up by “story editors” (read underpaid, non-unionized writers) and show producers. Reality television is just a more cheaply made, hastily manufactured and badly acted soap opera. It’s meant to appeal to the audience’s basest instincts — racism, voyeurism, willingness to suspend intelligent thinking — and to remind its critics that viewers get what they deserve. If it’s possible to lower that bar, this show surely does it.
The “Worse,” in the case of “The Shahs,” is that the producers have gone out of their way to put together a cast of unattractive, unsophisticated, unproductive and — you’re going to have to believe me on this — most unrepresentative-of-the original characters possible. It’s true that this is one program, and therefore just one creator’s point of view, and that no single creation can be fairly expected to reflect the entirety of a community that, like any other, is varied and complex and multidimensional. But it’s also true that this is the first mainstream production about Iranians in Los Angeles; for it to succeed, viewers would have to believe that it’s a close-enough rendition of the lives of average Iranians. And it consists entirely of every negative stereotype floating around this city about the community. All the women here are vain, stupid and spoiled; all the men are vain, stupid and spoiled. To see these characters, one would never imagine that an Iranian could engage in any profession other than selling real estate, or speak about anything other than looks, money and sex. We all go around wearing a floor-length, black and gold lamé dress with long sleeves and ruffles on a Saturday morning when we’re just kicking back in our tiny apartment; we travel to a friend’s pool party with our wardrobe consultant, hair dresser and makeup artist in tow; we gouge the eyes out of anyone who dares suggest that we shop at H&M; and when our mother calls us at work, we interrupt a meeting, put her on speaker phone and let everyone in the room listen in on our conversation about Shabbat dinner.
As for the “Ugly”…
I’ve thought long and hard about this — whether I’m so reproving of the show because it displays a truth I do not like to see, or because it makes our younger generation feel embarrassed about their parents’ community and cultural background. Our children know, as well as anyone, that there’s a great deal of antipathy on the part of non-Iranians in Los Angeles toward the rest of us, that the entire community is often blamed for the mistakes of one, that our accomplishments and contributions are frequently overlooked and our shortcomings amplified and exaggerated. Portrayals such as the one in this show will only exacerbate such tensions.
But what offends me so much about “The Shahs” is not that it reflects a reality that may be difficult to acknowledge; it’s that it makes such an obvious effort to cast its characters in the worst possible light. Granted, these actors might not have needed much persuading; we all know that some people will do anything, even humiliate themselves, just to be on television. Then again, this may be understandable, or at least forgivable, in someone with little education and no other means of making a living or finding self-worth. In people who have been given every kind of opportunity, including, as all these characters assert, a Beverly Hills High School education, a warm and supportive community, and parents and grandparents who have moved mountains, escaped war and disease and revolution, given up their ancestral home and reinvented themselves and their lives so that children can make something worthwhile of themselves — in these people, such abdication of grace and elegance is, I’m afraid, plain old ugly.
Gina Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her latest novel is “Caspian Rain” (MacAdam Cage, 2007). Her column appears monthly in The Journal.