Life & Culture

Fleishman is In Trouble TV review: Doctor dates amid mezuzahs and batmitzvahs

Judaism’s almost a supporting character in this faithful but impressively visual recreation of book


Fleishman is In Trouble
Disney+ | ★★★★✩

I wasn’t expecting the writing of a TV review to spin me into existential crisis, but that’s Fleishman Is In Trouble for you.

Maybe some of you want a good ol’ existential crisis,to break up the weekend, if not your marriage, but Disney+ should really provide additional warning: “Nudity, swearing, and you’ll question your life choices.”

A faithful but impressively visual recreation of the book of the same name — not surprising as Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote both — this mini-series ostensibly tracks the divorce of New York Upper East Side couple the Fleishmans, played by Jesse Eisenberg and Claire Danes.

Accordingly, and here’s the principal caveat, you kind of have to watch the whole thing to judge it.

In the first couple of episodes, you’re drawn in by what seems to be a divorce-set comedy drama, of which there’s been a few the last few years.

Upon discovering dating apps in his new apartment, Toby Fleishman relishes his newfound sexual freedom and desirability as a doctor with all his own hair.

So far, so so. But then his ex-wife disappears, leaving him with two pre-teen kids to care for, and the tightrope goes slack.

In free-fall the laughs lessen, and the blame begins. With flashbacks taking us to the flashpoints of the marriage, the good and the bad, a larger picture emerges. Again, we’ve kind of seen it all before — although never quite as Jewish.

Judaism’s almost a supporting character here, from the friendship group formed in Israel, the mezuzahs on the doorframes, summer camps, batmitzvah preparation, and in the stable family life Danes’ Rachel seeks to construct as a fortress after a traumatised childhood.

Perhaps some representation is too on the nose, antisemitism not intended, with Eisenberg’s neurotic nebbishy schtick wearing a bit thin at times, a shot of a splayed Portnoy’s Complaint hitting you about the face, and witty banter worn as a shield.

However, outside of the homeland, there’s comfort to take from being in a world where to be Jewish, to do Jewish things, and to randomly be surrounded by so many members of the tribe, is taken for granted in this way.

And so, as the scope of the series widens, first exploring the declining mental health of Rachel, whose face metaphysically morphs from Hollywood star to its Spitting Image equivalent, and then the identity malaise of narrator and Toby’s confidant Libby, the true themes of the thing emerge.

Which a novel allows for, as you continue to justify the time already committed, yet episodic television rarely encourages.

As likeable an actor as Lizzy Caplan is, struggling to see if her Libby can pull herself back from the brink via the vicarious lessons learnt from the Fleishmans’ troubles, even resorting to highjacking their story to facilitate her self-worth, the need to show people at their worst and most unsympathetic in order to reveal certain truths, unfortunately asks of us another one.

Are these people with whom I would choose to spend time?

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