What do the following have in common: a magical psychologist who can send his patients back in time, a five-year-old with autism, a tawdry affair and a dysfunctional Jewish family where the former patriarch is transgender? Yes, they’re all quick descriptions for recent television shows. They’re also the programs we’ve watched as part of our weekly “TV club.”
Never heard of a TV club? Well, it’s like a book club in that group members all read (or in this case, watch) something together and then discuss it afterward. So the subject matter chosen needs to be on a topic that will generate lively debate, stimulate insights into human nature and in general keep participants on their intellectual toes.
Our TV club started nearly five years ago when we were watching the first of the programs on my list, Being Erica – a superb Canadian drama about a Jewish thirtysomething woman whose life is falling apart.
When we first meet her, Erica has been fired from her job, her boyfriend has dumped her and she lands in the hospital from a peanut allergy. While there, a mysterious “Dr. Tom” visits. He has the ability to help her deal with her traumatic childhood through time travel that allows Erica to revisit pivotal moments from her past.
My wife, Jody, and I watched the first few seasons alone, but then we thought it would be fun to invite some of our therapist friends (for some reason, a number of the people with whom we are close are in the helping professions) to join us and analyze each episode.
It was such a success that we didn’t want to stop. We expanded the group beyond psychologists. But Erica ended, so we searched for another drama that would keep us talking. Amazon’s Transparent
fit the bill.
Nominally about the transition of Mort to Maura, the award-winning series is more about the characters’ overall family dynamics.
Sometimes we get through an entire episode without stopping, but most of the time, we wind up pausing every few minutes so we can chat, fume, pontificate or learn. (It helps that one of our friends is a sex therapist; Transparent
is so full of teachable moments.)
I haven’t heard of other TV clubs, but the idea makes a lot of sense in this era of “Peak TV,” when the best actors, writers and directors have moved from the big screen to the home entertainment center. It’s more of a social activity than a book club, which is primarily a solitary affair punctuated by the occasional in-person meet-up.
Our TV club serves another critical function for the group, all of whom are immigrants to Israel: it’s a mini-family.
None of us has family in Israel beyond our own children. We have friends outside the TV club, of course, but getting together with the same people on a weekly basis (outside, say, Shabbat) is a big deal and something we didn’t do before the TV club.
We don’t just watch and discuss. Jody always makes popcorn and puts out tea. One friend brings cake, another a variety of multicolored organic gluten-free vegan chips. And we share about our lives. What’s happening with work, kids and – lately – health.
When I was diagnosed with cancer a couple of months ago, the TV club was there for me – at first to listen as I juggled treatment options, then to offer help. I knew I could count on every member of the club. That goes way beyond TV.
At this point, we probably spend more time talking and less time watching TV when we get together. There are some excellent shows that we won’t watch in the TV club. Anything with too much violence is out. I wanted to try Fauda
with the group. We watched the first scene until I noticed at least half the group was shielding its eyes from too much tension.
TV has been my go-to screen for years, since I became too frustrated with the movie-going experience in Israel. I’d rather be at home with a few friends than with a bunch of strangers who are texting and talking throughout, even if the screen at the theater is bigger and I don’t have to worry about annoying our neighbors if we crank the sound system up too loud.
Plus, at home, I get to hold the remote control.
We’ve watched two other series over the years. The Affair
(co-created by Israeli Hagai Levi, who was behind HBO’s In Treatment
) has given us lots of opportunities to yell at the screen. (“No, don’t go back to his house! What were you thinking!”)
Our most recent TV club show, The A-Word
, also has Israeli roots – it’s a British remake of the Hebrew drama Yellow Peppers. Both revolve around an extended family coming to terms with the main couple’s son, who’s on the autism spectrum. (The five-year-old boy in the British version also listens exclusively to late 1970s punk and early 1980s New Wave, which is an added bonus for this fan of that musical time period.)
Now we’re at a crossroads. The A-Word
has ended its two-season run; The Affair
doesn’t come back until the summer; and the future of Transparent
is unclear now that actor Jeffrey Tambor has been ousted from the show for sexual harassment.
What should we watch next? You know our criteria. We are open to suggestions! The writer’s book,
Totaled: The Billion-Dollar Crash of the Startup that Took on Big Auto, Big Oil and the World, is available on Amazon and other online booksellers. brianblum.com