Carol Kane Brings Her Jewish Chops to 'Dinner With the Parents' – Kveller
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Carol Kane Brings Her Jewish Chops to ‘Dinner With the Parents’

The actress and the Amazon Freevee show's creator, Jon Beckerman, talked to Kveller about finding humor in Jewish ritual.

Dinner With The Parents - (L to R) Henry Hall as David Langer, Dan Bakkedahl as Harvey Langer, Carol Kane as Nana in episode 101 of Dinner With The Parents.

via Olly Courtney/CBS

If you watch the new Amazon Freevee show “Dinner With the Parents,” based on the British sitcom “Friday Night Dinner,” you will be delighted, by, well, all of it. But specifically, you will be delighted by Carol Kane as the most extra of Jewish grandmothers, who has a thick Eastern European accent, some of the best unexpected jokes, and who also brings some surprisingly meaningful moments of Jewishness to the fore — like a scene in which she chants the Mourner’s Kaddish in the most impeccable way.

According to Dan Bakkedahl, who plays the Langer family patriarch in the series, it was Kane who kept them honest and close to Jewish tradition. “Carol in real life knows a lot about it, and understands and upholds a lot of it, and was trying to keep us as close to honest as the script will allow us to go.”

So you might be surprised to learn that Kane, whose parents were both Jewish, did not grow up particularly observant. It was the movie and TV sets she has worked that have served as her synagogue. Everything she knows about chanting prayers, Yiddish and the seder plate were learned while working on the many incredible Jewish projects she’s been a part of, including Joan Micklin Silver’s classic Jewish film, “Hester Street.”

All the Jewish moments she partakes in during the series? “Everything extremely not off the cuff,” a delightful Kane tells me in a joint video interview with the show’s creator, Jon Beckerman. “I apologize, but the truth is, I’m a very uneducated Jew. I don’t know the songs, we didn’t really go to temple.”

Kane has nothing to apologize for, of course, she’s brought us so much empowering Jewish representation on screen. “In my life, I keep getting parts where I get to learn different things. I just finished a movie where I got bat mitzvahed, and I got to learn a Torah portion,” she says, referring to the anticipated romcom “Between the Temples” where she stars alongside Jason Schwartzman.

“Without these movies and TV shows, I would know nothing,” Kane muses. “‘Hester Street’ was my Yiddish training,” she adds. “I’m really lucky. But none of it is off the cuff. It’s very hard-earned learning.”

Beckerman also brought some really heartwarming specificities of his own Jewish childhood to this show, which, like his own upbringing, is set in a Jewish neighborhood in Philadelphia. The first season of the show feels even more Jewish than “Friday Night Dinners,” with Jewish holiday celebrations, mourning rituals and talks of the bar and bat mitzvah circuit.

“Robert Popper, who created ‘Friday Night Dinner,’ grew up in North London in a Jewish neighborhood with a brother. When I saw that show, I immediately related to it because I grew up with a brother in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, which is a Jewish neighborhood. As a kid, all of my neighbors were Jewish. I remember the first time a non-Jewish family bought one of the homes and moved in. When Christmas would roll around, there’d be one house decorating for Christmas… I grew up in this bubble, where I just kind of thought everyone was Jewish. Turns out I was wrong.”

When the opportunity to adapt it to American audiences came, Beckerman brought all these experiences to the set, where they feel alive and anchored in reality, despite the ridiculousness of so many of the show’s scenarios.

“I don’t know that I grew up any more observant or less observant than Robert; we haven’t really talked about it that much. But I think that storytelling is best when it’s specific,” Beckerman says. “So once I knew we were going to do a show about a Jewish family, I thought let’s take advantage of it and tell some stories that you wouldn’t otherwise get to tell.” These are the stories grounded in Jewish life — including an episode about a shiva and one about a seder. “It was just great fun for me to be able to draw from that part of my life,” Beckerman adds.

Like Kane, though, the family at the center of the show, the Langers, are pretty secular. There’s something wonderful and relatable about the tension that happens when a rabbi, or someone more observant, shows up. “They want to appear as more observant or more educated than they are,” Beckerman explains.

The show has a “Judaism consultant,” which results in the Jewish details being pretty spot on. But there’s also an irreverent aspect to it — this isn’t a show for the faint of heart when it comes to treating Judaism with the outmost veneration. More often than not, you’ll see the characters getting themselves in some pretty hilarious and cringe-inducing messes, especially when it comes to feigning Jewish observance.

“I remember filming that shiva episode, occasionally I’d glance over at this nice fellow who was the Judaism consultant and just see him shaking his head, looking very grim,” Beckerman recalls. “Whenever I saw that, I was like: Yes! We’re doing the show I want to be doing.”

That irreverence was part of Beckerman’s childhood, including at his family’s seders. “When I was a kid, we would always have them at my dad’s parents’ condo, and we’d have the whole family there,” he tells me. “And there was something that I found so funny about ‘Dayenu.'”

“I would always get into a situation with my mom, who’s like me, a very silly person, where once we locked eyes and saw each other, almost laughing, it would become almost impossible not to crack up. It’s that thing when you shouldn’t be laughing and it makes it impossible not to,” Beckerman recalls.

Kane relates, adding, “That’s what I remember most about the few times I went to temple — trying not laugh, not at anything in particular, just probably because you weren’t supposed to.”

When I ask about Passover traditions, both Beckerman and Kane have fond, though perhaps alarming memories of Passover wine.

“We had almost no traditions,” Kane recalls, “but I do remember Manischewitz wine. And I remember that it came in a little bottle that was a little lady. And it had a pack of four that didn’t have a straight bottom.” (PSA: If anyone reading this can help Carol and I find what bottles she’s referring to, I would be so appreciative, because I haven’t stopped thinking about them in the weeks since our interview.)

“I can really relate to the Manischewitz part of it,” Beckerman says of his own family’s seders. “As a little kid, my brother and I would have several glasses of wine. By the end of the night, we would be passed out on my grandparents. So I remember getting a very warm feeling in my face and feeling very kind of loose and carefree. We’d end up basically passing out. I hope I’m not gonna embarrass my family by saying, this but this is what happened. There’s a lot of drinking involved at a seder — as we all know.”

Our conversation ends with talk about the most important topic of all — their favorite Jewish food. “I like smoked fish and bagels,” Kane says.

“It’s hard for me to choose because I have many, but if I had to narrow it down to one, matzah brei is a dish I’m obsessed with. I’ve taught my kids to make it,” Beckerman says. “There’s a big division between people who go sweet and people who go savory. As a kid I was always served it with salt. And so I like it with salt and pepper. The rest of my family will only eat it with sugar and maybe some syrup. But I would never eat it like that.”

“My daddy made wonderful matzah brei,” Kane reminisces, sharing that he made it with jam, a sweet and very Jewish childhood memory of her own.

The first four episodes of “Dinner With the Parents” are now streaming on Amazon Freevee, with two additional ones added each Thursday until May 9. 

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