December 9, 2018

The new year brings viewers new T.V. shows

It’s September, which means back to school, Rosh Hashanah and a brand-new TV season. This year, members of the tribe populate the landscape both on camera and behind the scenes, from Bebe Neuwirth as the secretary of state’s chief of staff in CBS’ “Madam Secretary,” to Jeffrey Tambor as a transgendered Jewish patriarch on Amazon’s “Transparent,” to actress Rashida Jones wearing her producer hat on the NBC comedy “A to Z.” Jones is among the recurring guests on the fourth season of Showtime’s “Web Therapy,” reviving in October and starring Lisa Kudrow, who also brings back her HBO comedy “The Comeback” in November. Jason Isaacs stars in USA’s Jerusalem-set thriller, “Dig,” Dave Annable plays a doctor in “Red Band Society,” and PBS’ “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.” explores the Jewish genealogy of Carole King, Tony Kushner and Alan Dershowitz. Here are a few more faces to watch:

Last seen on TV in the musical drama “Smash,” Debra Messing returns to her comedic “Will & Grace” roots in “The Mysteries of Laura,” a hybrid that’s part police procedural, part family comedy. It casts Messing as New York Police Department homicide detective Laura Diamond, a divorced single mother of twin boys — terrors both — whose unfaithful ex-husband (Josh Lucas) has just become her new boss at the precinct. 

Messing seized the opportunity to tackle the genre-blending role. “Making other people laugh, hearing laughter around me on set, does something to me that nothing else in the world does,” she said. “It brings me joy.” As a huge crime-reality fan, Messing watches “48 Hours,” “Dateline” and “everything that has to do with murder. This is a dream come true for me because I get to be in the center of murder mystery.”

A single mother of a 10-year-old son, Messing can relate to her character’s efforts to juggle career and family. “Just like Laura, some days I feel really proud that I’m able to find that balance. And there are other days when I’m incredibly distressed because I wasn’t able to do it,” she said. “There is something incredibly universal about the predicament.”

 “The Mysteries of Laura” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.

Remembered as Paris Geller, the prep school nemesis on “Gilmore Girls,” and from subsequent series, including “Bunheads” and “Scandal,” Liza Weil returns to TV in “How to Get Away With Murder” as Bonnie Winterbottom, aide to Viola Davis’ law professor lead. 

“Bonnie presents as a nice team player, but the students are going to find out very quickly that she does have an edge,” Weil said. “She’s an enforcer, and she’s going to do what is necessary, carrying out Annelise’s dirty work.” 

The series marks Weil’s return to work after a four-year hiatus following the birth of her daughter, Josephine, who is now starting school. Weil and her husband, actor Paul Adelstein (“Private Practice”), were both brought up in Reform Jewish families and are raising Josephine with the traditions. 

“They’re very important to me, and I think they become more important raising a little girl,” she said. “There’s so much about the faith that’s about community and being aware of the good, and that’s certainly something that I want to continue to practice.”

“How to get Away With Murder” airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.

From “Ordinary People” to “Taxi” to “I’m Not Rappaport,” Judd Hirsch has played a diverse array of roles in his four-decade career, earning an Oscar nomination, two Emmys, two Tonys and a Golden Globe nomination along the way. His latest project is the fantasy drama “Forever,” about a doctor and medical examiner (Ioan Gruffudd) who inexplicably became immortal after surviving a fatal gunshot wound 200 years before. Hirsch plays Abe, the doctor’s friend, confidant and keeper of the secret. 

“Forever” — Judd Hirsch  

It’s a Jewish character, one of many the 79-year-old actor has played. However, Hirsch calls that a coincidence of casting, not by design. He’s fought against typecasting, offering his 1970s series “Delvecchio” as an example. “I played a detective in that, totally Italian.”

“Forever” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.

After memorably playing supporting roles in ensembles, notably a flipped-out ad writer in “Mad Men” and a guardian angel in “Drop Dead Diva,” Ben Feldman steps up to the co-lead in the romantic comedy “A to Z,” opposite Cristin Milioti. 

“A to Z”— Ben Feldman and Cristin Milioti 

The title comes from their names, Adam and Zelda, and the role is admittedly a stretch for Feldman. “It’s out of my comfort zone to play romantic idealists. He’s a happy good guy. I’m a quirky cynic,” he said. “I have to suppress all those traits that came out in me in ‘Mad Men’ — cynical, neurotic and weird,” ones he characterizes as typically Jewish. “I don’t know many Jewish people who don’t have a sense of humor. I’m always surprised whenever I meet a Jew who isn’t funny.”

Feldman, who got married last October in a Jewish ceremony, has been to Israel with his wife and said they “observe in our own way. The culture and history are very important to me. They didn’t used to be,” he said. “I think everybody starts caring about history once they realize they don’t have a lot left to make of it.”

“A to Z” airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.

In “Scorpion,” about a team of misfit geniuses recruited by Homeland Security to avert crises, Ari Stidham plays statistics wiz Sylvester Dodd, brilliant but socially awkward. “There’s a lot of OCD with this guy,” said Stidham of his first network series role. (His previous experience was limited to improv comedy, a couple of guest spots and the cable series “Huge.”) 

A native of Westlake Village, where he grew up in an observant Reform home and attended “a lot of bar mitzvahs,” Stidham now considers himself “culturally Jewish. I definitely identify, and I will book a Birthright trip [to Israel],” the 19-year-old said. He identifies with Jewish comics such as Danny Kaye, “who had the great physical comedy that I aspire to,” and Jason Alexander’s “Seinfeld” character, George Costanza. “The world is against him, a shlimazel,” he said, using the Yiddish for unlucky loser. “I was born a shlimazel. But I’m happy playing guys like that, the underdog you root for.”

“Scorpion” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBS.

Zoe Levin (“Palo Alto,” “The Way Way Back”) has been somewhat typecast as a snippy, mouthy teenager, so she was wary about playing another in “Red Band Society.” But the pilot script, about sick teens that bond in a hospital ward, had a different take on the stereotype. “There were layers, moments of vulnerability. She’s not just the mean girl,” Levin said of her cheerleader character, Kara. 

Levin, who moved west from suburban Chicago after high school graduation in 2012, was educated earlier at a private Conservative Jewish school. “It taught me a lot of the values I have today. I still go to temple on the High Holy Days. For me, it’s more of a cultural thing; it’s about community and those values and traditions, it grounds me,” she said. 

Before moving to Atlanta, where the series shoots, she asked her hometown temple’s rabbi for a synagogue referral so she can celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “It’s good to have a life outside of filming,” she said. 

“Red Band Society” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox.

Showcased this summer as Ezra Goodman in the Showtime drama “Ray Donovan,” which wraps its third season Sept. 28, Elliott Gould segues into a very different role in the sitcom “Mulaney,” playing the titular standup comic’s gay neighbor and confidant, Oscar. “He’s sort of like a Yoda character, very philosophical,” Gould said. 

“Mulaney” — Nasim Pedrad and John Mulaney

It’s the latest role in a 50-year career that includes “M*A*S*H,” the “Ocean’s” trilogy and dozens of TV shows, and, at 79, he’s happy to be working steadily. But his biggest hope for the future has nothing to do with his career. 

“My greatest role is grandfather,” he declared. “My great ambition is to be a great-great grandfather.”

“Mulaney” airs Sundays at 9:30 p.m. on Fox.

Known for his roles in “Judging Amy, “The Birdcage” and as abducted and murdered Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl in “A Mighty Heart,” Dan Futterman is also the Oscar-nominated writer of “Capote,” scripts for “In Treatment” and the buzzed-about “Foxcatcher,” due in November. Now, with his wife and producing partner, Anya Epstein, he is show-running the drama “Gracepoint,” a 10-part series based on the British series “Broadchurch,” about the investigation of a child’s murder.

It’s not an exact remake. “The DNA is the same, but we go down different roads, and the cumulative effect ends us in a different place,” Futterman said. “We deviated as much as we wanted to and as much as we could while still trying to tell this beautiful story that has a beginning and now a different ending.”

“Gracepoint” — Nick Nolte

Simultaneously working on an action-movie script, Futterman doesn’t rule out appearing on camera. “If somebody would give me a job, I’d do it in a second. 

“The truth is, my opportunities as an actor were becoming fairly limited. I was getting typecast in certain types of parts,” he said. “I have much more opportunities as a writer.”

“Gracepoint” airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on Fox.