By Richard Ades
Reviewing TV isn’t usually my thing, but I couldn’t resist the chance to sample Nehama. I figured the Israeli dramedy might be a passable substitute for Shtisel, an addictive Jerusalem-set series whose third season has been delayed by the pandemic.
Well, the first thing I should say is that the hourlong newcomer bears little resemblance to Shtisel. While that show centers on Israelis whose lives are shaped by their ultra-orthodox beliefs, Nehama is about countrymen who are largely casual about their faith. It’s actually more like an Israeli version of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, as it also centers on an aspiring comedian: Guy Nehama (Reshef Levi), who wants to revive the standup career he gave up years ago when he became a family man.
One big difference between the two: While Mrs. Maisel seldom seems tied down by parenting duties thanks to her helpful parents and an amenable ex, Nehama finds his time constantly being monopolized by his five kids. This is especially true after he loses his wife, Tamar (Liron Weissman), in an accident that’s foretold in the series’ very first scene.
Actor Levi, who also created and co-wrote the series, portrays Nehama as a neurotic man prone to spasms of hypochondria and self-pity, paranoia and anger. When we first meet him, he’s basically Tamar’s sixth child, as he needs constant attention and reassurance—needs she meets with a mixture of patience, exasperation and humor. That makes things all the more difficult for Nehama when he must take over the parenting duties previously handled by his late wife.
While we watch Nehama struggle with varying success to meet these new obligations, we also learn more about the people around him, including married but childless brother Oren (Shalom Michaelshwilli) and co-worker Dana (Gala Kagen), who harbors a not-so-secret crush on her suddenly available colleague.
Thanks to flashbacks, we also learn new information about Tamar, who sacrificed herself more than Nehama ever knew. A particularly important development turns up in the sixth episode, the last one provided to reviewers.
Nehama has a few things in common with Shtisel. Both are alternately funny and sad, and both complicate their characters’ lives with soap opera-like dilemmas that are often of their own making. The new show’s mercurial title character is especially prone to bad choices, which may frustrate some viewers.
But hang in there long enough, and you’ll likely be sucked into its tale of a man who’s belatedly learning how to become an adult.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Nehama (in Hebrew with English subtitles) will be available in the U.S. beginning Oct. 15 on Topic, a screening service from First Look Media.