Idol Chatter

A handsome Midwestern man discovers that his family is actually of Jewish heritage and that his mother was forced by the Nazis to catalog stolen art during World War II. Now the matron is working to see that the art is returned, but family members are being hunted down by a mysterious entity, even though they have since changed their names.

What would seem like a typical plot on “Law & Order” is actually one of the latest storylines on the daytime drama “The Young and the Restless.” It seems that resident heartthrob and Newman Enterprises executive Brad Carlton is actually George Kaplan.

Stephanie Sloane, editor of Soap Opera Digest and a 16-year veteran of the industry, told The Jewish Week she has never heard of such a story arc on a soap. “Judaism is not often addressed in daytime [programming],” she said. “There is only one other prominent [Jewish] character in daytime [Nora Hanen on ‘One Life to Live’], and the stories are not about her being Jewish. We don’t see her celebrating the High Holidays. Her religious affiliation is not often addressed.”

But as a veteran of the soap world once pointed out to me, we do see Norah often wearing a cross pendant around her neck.

And while Sloane has a point about recent soaps not giving Jewish characters rich spiritual lives, she is clearly forgetting that “Days of Our Lives” brought a Holocaust survivor storyline to daytime serials in the early ’80s.

In 1985, Dr. Mike Horton, a Protestant, and Dr. Robin Jacobs, an Orthodox Jew, fell head over heels for each other. But Robin’s dedication to her faith–and her even greater dedication to her Holocaust survivor father, who didn’t want her to marry a non-Jew–kept them apart. Although, there were brief glimpses of ecumenism–Robin led Mike through a Shabbat–she couldn’t disavow her heritage and ended up dating a Jewish pharmacist named Mitch. Meanwhile, Robin’s uncle suspects a new doctor at the hospital, Dr. Fred Miller, is an escaped Nazi who orchestrated the deaths of thousands, including Robin’s grandmother. Mike and Robin work together to bring down the former Dr. Friedrich Kluger, but Robin still won’t marry Mike, even though he offers to convert–although she will conceive a child with him. But that’s a different story.

What’s most interesting in this latest example is that life is, in a way, imitating art. The actor who portrays Carlton/Kaplan, Don Diamont, was raised a secular Jew and took his mother’s maiden name on his agent’s advice, leaving his former identity as Bruce Feinberg behind.

“While I probably didn’t acknowledge it at the time, the truth is it gave me a layer of insulation from the outside world. I didn’t look Jewish, and from my [new] name you couldn’t tell who I was,” Diamont said. “Then as I got older, it was just the opposite. I made it a point to let people know I was Jewish and that my name was Feinberg.”

Though Woody Allen’s last movie, “Matchpoint,” was a dark psychological thriller, Allen is still most recognized for his unique brand of screwball comedy. Allen once again throws together eccentric characters, mix-ups, and mayhem in his latest effort, “Scoop,” but this time with only limited success.

“Scoop” involves Sid, a neurotic has-been magician (Allen); a ditzy American journalism student, Sondra (Scarlett Johannson); and Peter Lyman, a wealthy British playboy (Hugh Jackman ), who may or may not be London’s infamous Tarot Card Killer. When Sondra attends Sid’s magic act and becomes an unwilling volunteer in one of his tricks, a recently deceased journalist magically appears before Sondra to give her a clue about who the Tarot Killer is. The overeager Sondra realizes this is her chance to make a name for herself by solving the murder and “scooping” all of the newspapers with the story.

“Scoop” is a long way from vintage Allen, as Allen himself hinted at in a recent interview. The biggest problem with this movie is not so much the convoluted story–because that is part of Allen’s charm as a storyteller–but the miscasting of both Jackman and Johansson in the lead roles. Johansson is not quite believable as a goofy co-ed who ends up having sex with every man she tries to interview, and Jackman is not nearly dastardly enough or charming enough to play the roguish Peter. However, Allen’s classic deadpan timing as Sid never fails, and he consistently delivers the best lines of the film over and over again.

So even if “Scoop” will probably not make the cut in a Woody Allen film retrospective, Allen’s performance in the movie reminds me that even mediocre Woody Allen is superior to a lot of comedies that try to do what Allen has been doing with artistic ease for decades. And in a summer full of films that are big on special effects and small on substance, “Scoop” is still a refreshing treat.

A new reality show debuting this fall on the LOGO network has given “niche marketing” a whole new meaning. “Jacob and Joshua: Nemesis Rising” follows the two J-named boys, 20-something twins from Montana, as they pursue a music career (their band’s name is Nemesis). The story gets wilder: not only are the twins photogenic, they’re both homosexual and were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses. As Jehovah’s Witnesses, they follow a proud musical tradition: all the Jackson kids were brought up in the religion, and Prince still considers himself a member of the church.

A major component of the show, according to LOGO’s official blog, will be that “the pair, raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses, have to deal with whether or not to come out to their religious family.” One assumes that they decided to do just that–come out to their family–or else grandma and grandpa are in for a big surprise when they sit down to proudly watch the twins’ new TV show.

How to tell the Miller twins apart: Josh has dark hair; Jacob is a blond. Jacob has a long-term boyfriend; Josh is single. They bear a strong similarity to Evan and Jaron, the Orthodox Jewish twins who refuse to perform on Friday nights, the Jewish Sabbath. Musically, Nemesis also falls into the Evan and Jaron genre of poppy, rock-inspired ballads about relationships. Will a random radio listener be able to tell that the songs are about guys? And, more importantly, will they care?

A lot has been made of Mel Gibson’s recent indiscretions and its bearing on the national cultural character assessment. Whether it is media hype, national fascination, authentic character examination, or passing conversation, it has become the job of many to offer their opinions regarding Mel’s recent trifecta of DUI arrest, drunken tirade, and rehab clinic check-in. Including me.

First, Jesus said “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the log in your own eye?” I have yet to see a single web report, newsmagazine expose, or media outlet position encouraging all of us to consider the log in our own eye as the result of this. It’s all about Mel, his character, his religious faithfulness, his possible bigotry, his hypocrisy, and the effect on his brand and value within the industry. What would happen if one–just one–reporter or talking head talked about how this event has caused him or her to reflect on their own character, habits, and shortcomings?

And what about us? Have we stopped to consider if there be any arrogant, prejudiced, biased, deceitful, hypocritical way in us? I hope so. Then we could say that perhaps our fascination with movie stars serves a strong purpose, as the way we look at them helps us take a more mature and reflective look at ourselves.

Additionally, the very Pentateuch upon which the Jewish faith is built contains the stories of Adam’s disobedience, Abraham’s lie, Moses’ murder, and the iniquities of the nation of Israel. The Old Testament goes on to discuss the sins of many of its heroes, including David, the “man after God’s own heart,” whose story of prestige, power, access, adultery, conniving, murder, and cover-up would make today’s primetime dramas seem, well, biblical.

I hope there’s room for every one of us to at least withhold judgment, if not offer grace and forgiveness, for one who sinned. Like Mel, we are, all of us, part of the less-than-perfect human race. And the last time I checked, the statistics for human imperfection were running about 100%, so we’re all in it together.