Despite it being a year of TV and movie strikes, the amount of great television we got this year feels pretty astounding. In 2023, TV brought us a number of Holocaust and WII narratives, from “A Small Light” to “Transatlantic,” and a lot of great (and not so great) Jewish shows and movies.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane, why don’t we? (p.s. If you feel like some notable shows are missing her, you are right — but they’re probably in our ranking of the best Jewish Netflix films and shows in 2023).
The best Jewish series: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” on Prime
Well, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” sure went out with a bang. Season five, the show’s last season, was its best yet, in my opinion. At its center was Midge, played by Rachel Brosnahan, and her life’s most important relationship — her friendship with manager Susie Myerson, played by the marvelous Alex Borstein. The show’s creators went above and beyond with this final season — taking us through time, showing us the fate of all the characters we love so much (including a scene in a kibbutz) and offering a satisfying ending to a show that gave us a nostalgic, wondrous look at Jewish New York.
The best Jewish limited series: “A Small Light” on Hulu/Disney+
This was a hard one to decide on. But “A Small Light” created a show about the Holocaust that I was genuinely fascinated with while watching, especially because of the incredible talent in its cast. Bel Powley is absolutely magnetic as Miep Gies, the secretary of Otto Frank who helped hide his family in that Amsterdam attic. It’s also a brilliant show about resistance and ally-ship.
The best new Israeli show: “The Lesson” on ChaiFlicks
While not technically a 2023 show, “The Lesson” did premiere this year on the Jewish streaming service ChaiFlicks, and it is perhaps the most illuminating show about the modern state of politics and social dynamics inside Israel (and maybe even on the dynamics in classrooms outside of Israel). Starring the incredible Maya Landsman, it tells the story of what happens when a teacher and a student are caught in an ideological struggle that quickly snowballs out of both of their control.
The best made-for-TV Jewish movie: “Round and Round” on Hallmark
Did I ever think a Hallmark movie would rank in a list of the best TV of the year? No. But “Round and Round” was genuinely a great movie, one that filled me with Jewish joy and geeky love. I’d be happy to watch it again and again and again.
The best docu-series: “The Devil’s Confession” on Prime
In January, this incredible and groundbreaking show about Adolf Eichmann premiered on Amazon Prime. It is one of the most illuminating documentaries about the Holocaust I have ever seen, and I urge you to watch it.
The best comedy special: Marc Maron’s “From Bleak to Dark” on Max
Comedian, actor and beloved podcast host Marc Maron called this special a look into a 99.9% Ashkenazi void, referring to his DNA test results. Turns out, it makes for one of the best comedy specials you will ever see.
The best comedy cabaret: “Corsets & Clownsuits” on Prime
I couldn’t not include this highly enjoyable musical comedy special from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” star, which features lots of music, her Jewish parents and this excellent new Jewish Christmas song.
The best Jewish mom joke: Sarah Silverman’s “Someone You Love” on Max
In this very Jewish and very funny comedy special, Silverman shares one of the best Jewish mom jokes we’ve ever heard. It’s really been an incredible year for the Jewish comedian, who also stars in “Maestro” (and steals the show).
The funniest documentary: “Albert Brooks: Defending My Life” on Max
I don’t know what it is about Albert Brooks, but I was howling with laughter in the most primal of ways when I was watching this excellent Rob Reiner documentary about the Jewish comedian, actor and filmmaker. Some people were born with the skills to make you laugh enough to make you believe in a divine power, because a talent like that just can’t be happenstance. That’s Albert Brooks.
The best streamable musical: “Mr. Saturday Night” on Prime via BroadwayHD
I mean, Billy Crystal in a Jewish musical? Do I really need to say more? (No, seriously, I’m not going to say more.)
The best “Fiddler” parody: “History of the World: Part II” on Hulu
People had a lot of feelings about this Mel Brooks follow-up to the cult classic “History of the World: Part I.” Personally? I adored it. But my favorite part was the multi-part “Fiddler” parody starring Nick Kroll as Schmuck Mudman, a seller of mudpies “filled with the abject suffering and eczema of the Jewish diaspora.” Obviously, the best part of it was Pamela Adlon, who plays Schmuck’s wife.
The most controversial show we said goodbye to: “Hunters” on Prime
When was the last time a show got in trouble with the Auschwitz Memorial Museum? Well, “Hunters” certainly did. Maybe that’s why the second, and last, season of the show premiered early this year to very little fanfare. Yet, I have to say, I found the season about imaginary Nazi hunters in New York strangely illuminating and surprisingly great TV.
The best TV bat mitzvah: “Moon Girl and the Devil Dinosaur” on Disney+
I bet you thought you knew what I was going to write here… Well, surprise, it’s not an Adam Sandler movie, but instead an excellent Disney show with delightful Jewish representation. I’m so happy our kids get to watch such well-made, diverse Jewish representation.
The best fake mustache: Michael Aloni in “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem” on Netflix
The man and the fake mustache. Michael Aloni is so lovable and complex in the new season of the excellent Israeli period drama “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem,” but the fake mustache that he wears for the role just won’t stop making me laugh. We love you, Michael!
The most swoon-worthy performance: Amit Rahav as Thomas Lovegrove in “Transatlantic” on Netflix
Ever since we saw Amit Rahav on “Unorthodox,” we just want more of him. Lucky for us, he is truly incredible in this Holocaust period drama, playing an imagined Jewish hero. The people demand more Amit Rahav!
The best Jewish leather pants: Stuart Chaseman in “Jewish Matchmaking” on Netflix
I loved “Jewish Matchmaking” so much, but of all the wardrobe moments of the past year, it’s perusing through client Stuart Chaseman’s closet that I can’t forget.
The best Shira Haas: “Bodies” on Netflix
Speaking of “Unorthodox,” did you know its star, Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Shira Haas, was in a new Netflix show in 2023? We know, it’s been such a wild year that we almost forgot to let you know, but “Bodies,” which premiered on Netflix on October 19 (oof), is actually really excellent, if perhaps a bit too dark for these times.
Weirdest Jewish show of the year: “The Curse” on Showtime
If you want to be thoroughly weirded out by a TV show, look no further than, well, truly anything Nathan Fielder has ever made, but especially his new HBO show “The Curse.”
Best Jewish side character: Rachel Bloom as Elaine Levitch in “Julia” on Max
“Julia” is absolutely my favorite current comfort show, and it is also genuinely great TV. In the show’s new second season, we meet Elaine Levitch, a TV director brought in to help with Julia Child’s show “The French Chef.” While Levitch is a fictional character, she is overtly Jewish, and she brought up some pretty fond memories for Rachel Bloom, who plays her.
“Like Elaine, I also come from a long line of Bostonian Jews, and it was very cool to spend a few months in Boston last year pretending I was in the early 1960’s, a time when my grandfather still would have been the Somerville town doctor and my grandmother would still have been shopping at Filene’s. (Fun fact: she also graduated from law school in the 1930’s),” she wrote on Instagram, “Elaine is smart and awesome and Jewish and maybe knew my grandparents.”