Television review: Scenes from a Marriage

This remake of a classic comes a little too close to home for Josh Howie


2GM7FRA SCENES DE LA VIE CONJUGALE SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE 2021 serie TV creee par Hagai Levi saison 1 episode 3 Oscar Isaac Jessica Chastain. Prod DB © Jojo W


Friends, family, the couple at the next table over in the restaurant, you never know what’s really happening in other people’s relationships. Maybe that’s necessary, the shell helping to protect the delicate organs within. It gets scary though when that façade means you may not know what’s really happening in your own relationship. So it was with some trepidation that I sat down with my wife to watch this updated Scenes from a Marriage, the original 1973 version supposedly having led to a spike in divorce in its native Sweden.

A friend had already said it was like observing the two of us; an ex-Orthodox greying bearded Jew with glasses, married to a glamorous red haired woman who’s the primary bread winner. The main differences being that I’m no Oscar Isaac, and my wife’s more beautiful than Jessica Chastain, but if anything that makes the situation worse. If Oscar’s smouldering intensity isn’t enough to keep troubles at bay, what possible hope do I have? I mean, I love doing the TV reviews for the JC, but I don’t want to risk my marriage over it. Fortunately, we ended up bonding in judginess, both taking the same side in what’s essentially a two-handed character study. The only relationship fallout was our rattiness the morning after binge-watching all five hour-long episodes. That we stayed awake so late, unable to look away from our voyeuristic peephole into their trauma, speaks to the quality of every aspect of this production.

The directing, acting and script contain so much artistry you can’t spot the seams, even when the show’s creator and writer Hagai Levi, the Israeli behind In Treatment and The Affair, shoves it in your face by opening the episodes as the actors are setting up on set. That is chutzpah, being so confident of reality dissolving into artifice, as we winced and cringed into the unfolding story. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, because it’s the need to discover the outcome that’ll propel you ever onward to repeat, “Just five minutes of the next episode.”

While it’s not a barrel of laughs, don’t worry, it’s also not a load of worthy self-conscious navel-gazing either. I did laugh a lot during the commercials though, as some marketing smartass obviously thought to appeal to the show’s core demographics with constant adverts for Viagra and SodaStream. Let us not dig too deep into which one was meant to appeal to Jews, but there’s plenty of representation in the show itself. Mezuzot, challah and yarmulkes all make an appearance. Oscar Isaac even does the most Jewish thing I’ve even seen on screen, repacking a bag in a more efficient way.

While he himself may not be Jewish (although supposedly there’s a bit on his dad’s side) I’ve never seen a more subtle portrayal of a character whose Jewishness part- defines them. There’s no oying and shrugging, it’s conveyed by a struggle within, a repression of the animal straining to be unleashed from its chains of conversation, logic and trying to do the right thing. It bodes well for Isaac’s casting in Marvel’s upcoming Jewish superhero series, Moon Knight, which is a relief, because at the end of our time with this couple I wiped my brow, “There but for the grace of great TV shows keeping us both on the sofa, go I.”


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