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Thursday, June 4, 2020

British Sitcom Tackles Jewish Newspapers in ‘The Jewish Enquirer’

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A neurotic, tactless, middle-aged Jewish guy perpetually gets himself into hilariously awkward situations of his own making in “The Jewish Enquirer,” now available on Amazon. Centering on a reporter for a struggling Jewish newspaper in London, the sitcom is like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” with a British accent and minus the upscale lifestyle. Creator Gary Sinyor both acknowledges and doesn’t mind the comparison.

“I had to make [the series] independently because people thought it was too similar,” Sinyor told the Journal, adding that he became a fan of Larry David and “Curb” while living on Los Angeles’ Westside from 1999-2003 while making the rom-com “The Bachelor.”

“The main difference is the wealth/fame/celebrity factor,” he said. “This is a guy who’s not loaded with money and isn’t doing well. It’s a world where people have to eke out a living, a world that’s much more real.”

Sinyor confirmed that he is the model for the protagonist Paul (Tim Downie) — the inquisitive aspects, if not other traits. “Paul is fundamentally decent but he does [mess] up. He doesn’t want to, so he tries to rein it in and there’s always some sort of rapprochement with the people he’s rude to,” he said.

Other characters are loosely based on real people, and real-life incidents provided a jumping-off point for Sinyor’s scripts. He cast his 6-year-old son, Daniel, as Paul’s nephew Joshie and shot the series in his own neighborhood, some of it in his home. (His daughter also makes a cameo in a party scene and still complains that her part was not bigger.) The principal actors are not Jewish, with the exception of Paul’s friend Simon, played by Josh Howie.

In Sinyor’s original concept, Paul worked for a non-Jewish newspaper. “Changing it freed me up to explore not only the Jewish community but the wider context and talk about Judaism and Islam and racism and anti-Semitism comedically but with the passion I believe in,” he said, noting that it’s fairly novel for a British show to express that.

“American Jews have a lot more confidence,” he said. “They’ve had years of expressing themselves on television. Here, we’re a much smaller community but we’re rather reticent about our Jewishness. I wanted to fight back at that. I wanted to express my confidence in being Jewish in a way that people in America have been doing for decades.”

In the original concept, Paul worked for a non-Jewish newspaper. “Changing it freed me up to explore not only the Jewish community but the wider context and talk about Judaism and Islam and racism and anti-Semitism comedically.” — Gary Sinyor

The son of an Egyptian Jewish father and a Syrian Jewish mother, Sinyor “was brought up in a Sephardi household where we went to synagogue every Saturday.” While living in L.A., “I carried on the family tradition of going to synagogue on Shabbat and having people over for Friday night dinner.”

These days, he’s “not as much of a believer. I’m too much of a questioner,” he said. But the two youngest of his four children attend Jewish schools, like their older siblings did. “I think it’s important, with the lack of community bonding that’s going on in society,” he said. “They have made loads of friends that they’ll have for life.”

Sinyor set his sights on filmmaking from the moment he saw 1978’s “Midnight Express.” “I was absolutely quaking from the power of that movie. It really had an effect on me,” he said. After university, he went to film school, where he made the short film “The Unkindest Cut,” which he described as “a Jewish comedy about an accountant who couldn’t pass his exam. It ended up being nominated for a BAFTA (British film academy award) and got bought by the BBC. It was a massive break.”

As a huge fan of Monty Python, he couldn’t believe it when he got a call from Eric Idle, asking if he had any ideas for feature films. Although his first feature, “Leon the Pig Farmer,” ultimately was not made with Idle, “He helped me to be able to write and co-direct a feature film that won awards and became a cult hit,” Sinyor said. He’s also known for the 2017 thriller “Amaurosis,” originally released under the title “The Unseen.”

Sinyor currently has a feature project in the works, a romantic comedy set in L.A. called “Something Blue,” “about a Jewish guy getting married for the second time to a non-Jewish woman who’s getting married for the first time. It’s ‘Bridesmaids’-y, ‘Hangover’-ish,” he said. “We’re in the script stage, trying to attract financing.” He’s also writing the second season of “The Jewish Enquirer.” “I’ve written two episodes and suspect I’ll write the other four over the next few weeks.”

For the most part, the first episodes have been well received in Great Britain. “There will always be people who are offended,” Sinyor said. “A couple of journalists for Jewish papers haven’t liked it. It’s no surprise the Jewish community would be split. But I read the reviews and people are loving it, including people who aren’t Jewish. I like that because I didn’t make it for just the Jewish community. I made it for everyone, and I hope that happens in the States.”

“The Jewish Enquirer” is available for rent per episode or the entire series at Amazon.

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