This drama now airing on Netflix is, in a lot of ways, is pretty similar to much of its ilk – there are clandestine affairs, a young man looking for love, and a lost father figure grieving for his passed wife. However, with this one it isn’t some wealthy Californian family, whingeing as they climb into their Prius and chug down a green juice. This is about the Shtisels, a Haredi family living in an Orthodox community in Jerusalem.
This Israeli series has become one of those shows which has garnered a quiet but powerful following. You know, the type where you’ve either never heard of it or you’ve devoured every season the second it’s come out. We’re imagining our readers are the former, but we’re here to persuade you to become the latter.
Shtisel is a brilliant, thoughtful drama, demystifying the oft stereotyped lives of observant Jews. It portrays with intelligence and craft the complexities of a god-fearing life that equally acknowledges and respect the innately flawed nature of his creations – a pre-teen Bar Mitzvah aged boy ventures out of the community for the first time, amazed by the sights of women’s bare legs, an aspiring artist reluctantly going along with Haredi matchmaking, a woman locked in a loveless marriage, and a widowed father, saddened by his lack of control over his now adult children.
This honest drama is very refreshing, and not just because of its portrayal of religion and religious people. But because it’s slow. There’s none of these shocking cliff-hangers and outrageous occurrences that we’ve become (arguably too) comfortable with recently. The stories are told slowly and attentively, making sure all the emotional detail is left in, with gentle visuals to allow those moments of warmth and joy to really stand out. And as much thought went into its casting too – it’s impressive that with so many characters, every single one is acted beautifully.
Shtisel feels like a series from the pre-Netflix era, using storytelling to portray a microcosm of society in a considerate and compelling way. And The Times’s Carol Midgley is with us, saying “Shtisel’s strength is that it is gently paced yet an awful lot is going on,” adding, “all your lockdown escapism needs are here.” But this has been a sleeper success since before the pandemic, with The Los Angeles Times’s Jeffrey Fleishman calling it a “cult favourite,” full of scenes are “leavened with tenderness, insight and magical realism to soften the strictures of an omnipresent religion in which men’s faces are bordered in ribbon curls and married women, to appear chaste, slip on wigs before they leave the house.” The Financial Times’s Dan Einav praises this “warmth,” which he says is “serves as a much-needed antidote, both to the current crisis and the overwhelmingly cynical view of the world proffered by so many other feted contemporary dramas.”
First shown June 2013.