One Day review: Dexter is basically a Jewish prince in disguise

One Day isn’t just a bit of nostalgic romance, it’s also a parenting manual on how not to bring up your Jewish princelet


Will they, won't they: Leo Woodall and Ambika Mod as Dex and Em

One Day (Netflix) ****

The Apprentice (BBC1) ***

I started off resolute. I was not going to be watching One Day. Hated the book, hated the 2011 film, why on earth would I commit time to the Netflix series? A will-they, won’t-they inevitably-they-will love story set over 20 years, featuring deeply annoying Dexter (privileged, arrogant) and deeply annoying Emma (Northern, whinger), I couldn’t have been less interested. In theory.

But you know, there really isn’t a lot on at the moment that isn’t utterly depressing (special mentions to Jeremy Bowen and Fergal Keane) and Leo Woodall who plays Dexter was really very good in White Lotus. And gorgeous. Those blue eyes, that dimple. So I gave it a go, and was instantly hooked.

Having two excellent actors as the main characters helped a great deal, as did the soundtrack and a script which wasn’t afraid of poking fun at its protagonists. Then there’s the nostalgia aspect, especially for those of us the same age as Dex & Em. When I say the same age, half of the fun was working out exactly how old they were. “I’m 32,” said Dex helpfully in 1996, meaning one year younger than me…even though I could swear he was a few years younger than that in episodes one and two.

One potentially big change was that Northern Emma had acquired a Hindu mum. Presumably this was to explain the casting of the brilliant actress Ambika Mod, the daughter of Indian immigrants, in the role. Anyway once we’d established that Emma had a Hindu mother there was no further mention of Hindus, India, Diwali…nothing. Emma was what I think of as an ‘Anthony Goldstein’ character, named after the only Jew at Hogwarts, the sort of fictional confection given a tiny amount of diverse detailing by a non-ethnic creator, who then backs off nervously, hoping they’ve done enough for their work of art to be called ‘diverse’. Mind you, take a look on You Tube and you’ll find a very low budget high camp 2017 comedy series all about Anthony Goldstein, the only Jewish wizard at Hogwarts, which makes all the jokes one would expect. Yes, he suffers huge anxiety about being sorted. Yes, he’s in Ravenclaw with all the clever kids.  No, Bubbe can’t cope with getting a letter by owl. 

Anyway, Emma’s Hindu side is unexplored, but really, Emma is a bit of a distraction here because ultimately One Day is about Dexter and his relationship with — this is what makes it an exceptionally Jewish story, no matter how it pretends not to be — his mother. Also, Dexter and himself. And then there’s Dexter and his love affair with alcohol.

Dexter is basically a Jewish prince in disguise. He’s been indulged and pampered, and his mother adores him, but hopes that he’ll magically become a mensch. She wants him to find a partner and grow up, but she also wants to be the centre of his life, so she simultaneously urges him on and holds him back. While plying him with alcohol. Unfortunately he has no idea how to develop any kind of backbone, and instead messes around in the media. Then his mum gets ill and Dexter crumples completely — his tears at the station were, for this Jewish mum, the emotional apex of the entire series, much more tear-jerking than the Very Sad Thing that happens to Emma (who?) in episode 13.

You might think that the alcohol that soothes and torments Dexter is not very Jewish. But actually, I’d suggest it’s a myth that British Jews never get drunk. I can’t have been the only one who grew up with a beloved grandpa who had the rules of AA framed on the spare bedroom wall. The wine that Dexter chugs down is now out of date — young Jews now knock back spirits with abandon. They even hand out tequila at the Jewish Learning Exchange.

So One Day isn’t just a bit of nostalgic romance, it’s also a parenting manual on how not to bring up your Jewish princelet. And for an extra blast of toxic Jewish parenting head straight for  BBC1’s The Apprentice where Lord Sugar is telling all his would-be business partners that he’s very disappointed by them, they are not good enough, that they have let him down and why can’t they just find a nice Jewish girl or boy to settle down with? (I made up that last bit). Pass the tequila.

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