I couldn’t have been more excited to learn about the plans for a new HBO comedy in the works entitled “All Talk”? The show will reportedly be based on the daily dramas of a Jewish family living in Washington, DC, and will star Ben Stiller, who is also the executive producer and director. As if this were not exciting news enough, the show’s pilot was written by acclaimed writer Jonathan Safran Foer, who is originally from Washington, D.C., and whose mother, Esther Safran Foer, is currently the executive director of our very own Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. A perfect storm of awesome? I certainly think so. To be sure you’re with me on this, I will break this project down into its constituent parts (of awesomeness).
We all have a special place in our hearts for Ben Stiller, possibly for different reasons – for me it wasn’t Zoolander as much as it was Keeping the Faith, a 2000 rom-com about a love triangle between two childhood best friends who grew up to be a priest and a rabbi, and the non-Jewish girl that they both fall in love with.
Sometimes when I’m at a Friday night Shabbat service and the rabbi says “Shabbat Shalom” to the congregation and solicits an enthusiastic response, I still think of Anne Bancroft, mother of Stiller’s rabbi character in the movie, yelling out a supportive “Sha-bat Sha-lom!” to a near-empty synagogue. The point is, in the film, Stiller played a young, hot (yeah, I said it), hilarious, up-and-coming rabbi, and I look forward to seeing what he can do playing a Jew in Washington, D.C.
Jonathan Safran Foer
I’m biased, because Jonathan Safran Foer – or, JSF as some adoring fans often refer to him – is one of my favorite authors. If you haven’t read Everything is Illuminated, a powerful tale that ties together the history of one young man’s Jewish ancestors and his own personal quest for understanding, clear your calendar for the rest of the afternoon and read it post-haste.
Safran Foer also offered a frank and honest look at the factory farming meat industry, sharing his own personal journey toward ultimate vegetarianism in his non-fiction work Eating Animals. I found his personal struggle to reconcile the traditional, familial and religious ties to eating meat with his own moral tensions, and his coming to terms with why we eat what we eat to be extremely relatable. Personally, the book set the ball rolling on what eventually became my decision to become completely vegetarian. The point is, regardless of what you eat, the man is a good writer.
Additionally, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Safran Foer’s other well-known fiction work, is on my nightstand, but the reasons I haven’t finished it yet have more to do with my own tendency to over-commit myself than how great the book is. The story is a wonderful, smart, sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, often poignant journey of a young boy trying to cope with his father’s death on 9/11, which you can easily find yourself lost in. The movie of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close actually came out recently as well (though clearly I have to finish the book first).
Jonathan Safran Foer has gifted us with some brilliant and diverse works to date, and I look forward to seeing what he can do with the script for “All Talk.” Having grown up in Washington, D.C. as part of a local Jewish family, it’s easy to imagine the role that his own upbringing will play in the comedy that he has created.
I’m intrigued by what this show – labeled as “politically, religiously, culturally, intellectually and sexually irreverent,” is really going to be about. I don’t think that there has been much of a window into the life of DC’s Jewish families. Having lived in our precious District for a substantial chunk of my 20s, I like to think I’ve gotten a sense of its various flavors and communities. But clearly the Jewish life that I am and have been involved with is very different from the circles that Jewish families run in. I know about Jewish Rockville, I know about Jewish Silver Spring, and I see the families at Adas Israel congregation on the high holidays, but I don’t know what growing up as a Jew in Washington, D.C., or having a family here, is really about.
We might have to wait a little while to find out, since the show is not supposed to begin shooting until this fall (and apparently will not actually be shot in D.C.).
All in all, I at least am hoping that this perfect storm of awesome won’t just be “All Talk,” and will come through as a great new comedy. Personally, I can’t wait for the Jewish jokes, and to see what my men Stiller and Safran Foer have in store. Maybe it’s time to get HBO?