Life & Culture

Observant, pro-Israel Jews aren't shown on TV says Hapless creator

Comedy creator Gary Sinyor says he wants to show a diverse community


British Jewish comedy tends to be coy about religion, unlike shows made for our American cousins,

The most publicly Jewish sitcom in the UK, Friday Night Dinner, doesn’t mention challah or kiddish wine and the only person who says "Shabbat shalom" is the non-Jewish neighbour.

But Hapless, now returning to our screens for a second series, doesn’t do coy. The new season of the comedy, about a journalist for a Jewish newspaper, has just dropped on Amazon Prime and tackles BBC antisemitism, Israel, Jewish education and the ‘Y*d army’ debate - all with a big dose of humour.  

The show's creator and director Gary Sinyor first found success with another Jewish story – the hit 1992 film Leon the Pig Farmer and since then, has wanted to keep Judaism and Jewish characters at the forefront of his work.

"I think the powers that be – the broadcasters, the studios - don’t want to present a traditional view of Judaism. Even when I was doing Leon the Pig Farmer, I was given the strong impression that they would have liked him to end up with a non-Jewish girl – that we should just throw away all our traditions. There is this hard atheist approach.

"But I sent my kids to a Jewish school and being part of a community is part of my life – just as a religious community is part of the lives of Catholics and Muslims and Hindus and many other religions – and I just want to explore that.

"I know there is this push to say Judaism is just an ethnicity but I know loads of people who go to synagogue three times a year, and they count, right?"

In the show, Tim Downie stars as journalist Paul Green and this series follows him on many adventures as he meets an interesting array of Jewish and non-Jewish characters and tries to get a date.

It's a real labour of love for Sinyor, who remortgaged his house to fund the first few episodes. But thankfully he managed to get funding from a Swedish streaming company for the second series thanks to the success of the first in Nordic countries.

The series feature Jewish comic Roni Ancona who plays a version of herself as well as Saturday Kitchen’s chef Matt Tebbutt with a storyline about an Orthodox chef who can’t go on Saturday Kitchen because it’s Shabbat.

Comedy royalty Sally Philips stars as a manic South African caterer who explores the idea of a ‘Jewish premium’ for simchahs while Linda Robson is a one-eyed car driver.

The core cast – including the JC’s own Josh Howie as Paul’s friend Simon – are a mix of Jewish and non-Jewish. While he is intent on having Jewish representation in storylines, Sinyor does not believe that only Jews should play Jews and baulks at the idea of ‘Jewface’.

"There is this offensive phrase. I find it beyond offensive that anyone could put Jew and face into one word. I think it's racist," says Sinyor. "There is no one 'look' for Jewish people. There are people obviously who have a particular view of what a Jewish person should look like but they are wrong."

He wants to present a different view of Jews and Judaism from David Baddiel whose polemic work Jews Don't Count has become somewhat of a bible for many British Jews. But while Baddiel made it clear he sees Jewish culture distinct from Israel, Sinyor disagrees.

He said: "He talks in his book about how Israelis can’t be real Jews because they are ripped and too confident and I think that’s racist," says Sinyor . "He might be joking but the assumption that his reader gets is that Jewish people aren’t ripped and confident."

"I don’t have a problem with Baddiel but I just don’t want him to be the only voice representing Jews. So when he’s on television saying don’t associate us with the State of Israel – well 90 per cent of Jewish people support the existence of a Jewish state so he’s fundamentally misrepresenting the Jewish community. I am quite passionate about putting forward another side to that.

"It's important to show the other side of the Jewish experience. But to do it with humour too."

Hapless is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

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