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Single Jewish women (and their mothers) are supposed to experience a Pavlovian drool reaction to the presence of doctors, but I never went thusly gaga, not even for television doctors. And while I do admit that Clooney was cute, this whole “Grey’s Anatomy” McDreamy nonsense over the admittedly adorable Patrick Dempsey wasn’t a reason for me to watch. I already had “ER,” so my triage rooms were all occupied. And what kind of hospital in a major city doesn’t seem to have any Jewish doctors, anyway?

But friends I trusted loved “Grey’s Anatomy”–so I gave it a whirl. The format–young doctors dodging barbs from demanding residents and struggling to make it in a hospital–was familiar from other television shows, but the characters are innovative enough to keem me coming back, with each episode peeling back a layer of complexity for the residents of Seattle Grace.

In last night’s episode, the first of Season 3, Izzy–devastated by the death of her heart-transplant patient turned love-of-her-life Denny–lay prostrate on the floor of her bathroom as her friends stood outside and debated who should attempt the impossible task of consoling her. Meredith was making sandwiches, because it’s what you do when people die. “You mean like shiva,” asks Christina Yang (Sandra Oh).

What? Yang reveals that her family is Jewish, so they sit shiva.

“Tell me about shiva,” says Izzy from her prone position on the bathroom floor, engaging in conversation for the first time since her fiancee/patient passed away. “It’s supposed to help with your grieving,” said Yang, explaining that they sat shiva for her grandmother for seven days, offering a detailed–and accurate–description of the traditions of this seven-day Jewish mourning period.

This marks my first awareness that Yang is Jewish, and I wonder what kind of impact that added layer will have on her character’s story arcs over the course of the upcoming season.

An hour and a channel flip later, I’m watching “ER,” where Estelle Harris (who will forever be known to many as “George Costanza’s mother”) shows up as the mother of the burly reception manager Jerry Markovic (Abraham Benrubi, who’s been with the show on and off since 1994) and starts talking at him with “oy veys” and calling him “sheyneh punim” (beautiful face). So suddenly, another Jewish character is outed on a medical drama–this time by his loud, abrasive cliche of a Yiddishism-spitting Jewish mother.

I found myself again wishing for TiVo, so I could rewatch those scenes for intimations of future plotlines, how Jewish tradition might impact story and character development. But most often, a Jewish television character is just Jewish culturally, making the perfunctory remark about how he or she observes Hanukkah, not Christmas, right before joining in the caroling chorus. And unless there’s a Jewish patient, or until Hanukkah rolls round again, we forget that the distinction was even made.

On “ER,” it’s unlikely that Jerry’s religion will become a storyline, but on “Grey’s,” it has a chance–the show never misses an opportunity to raise the stakes for each character, adding layers of complexity and nuance in characters as distinct from one another as they are interdependent and complementary.

The success of any heroic journey in fiction is based on the premise that the hero is an ordinary person who is endowed with special powers and is sent on a special quest to fulfill his or her destiny. NBC’s new drama “Heroes,” which debuts Monday night, takes that classic premise and gives it a slight twist by introducing viewers to the lives of several ordinary people from various parts of the world who are just beginning to come to terms with the reality that they have supernatural capabilities. Unlike “X-Men” or the “Fantastic Four,” these heroes do not work together or even know each other–yet–nor do they wear super cool comic-book-hero-style costumes, but their quest to do something more is no less interesting.

In Monday night’s episode, we meet a man who can fly, a woman who sees strange images in mirrors, and an artist who paints the future. The only real clue we are given to the possible link between these characters and their superhuman abilities is a genetics professor who is trying to solve the mystery of his father’s death. The big question: Did his father make a huge discovery regarding human evolution, and does anyone else know about it?

While it is tough at times to keep track of all of the stories this episode is trying to establish, I think the best storyline by far is the journey of Claire Bennett, a cheerleader who can automatically heal from any wound inflicted upon her. “Heroes” is at its most life-affirming when we watch a teenage girl who has always been judged on the most superficial criteria–even by her own family–discover there is so much more meaning to her life than what she previously thought. (I’ll bet I just grabbed the attention of all of you “Buffy” fans out there!)

With multiple characters, multiple storylines, and almost endless possibilities, “Heroes” is probably one of the few potential hits of the new TV season. It has enough action and mythic pathos to keep the graphic novel enthusiasts entertained while providing enough heart and soul to hold the interest of the rest of us.

My Name is Earl” kicked off its anticipated second season by pairing two of the show’s most distinctive characters–the eponymous amends-seeking hero, played by Jason Lee and his moustache, and his insufferably white-trash bitch of a wife, played by Jaime Pressly and her six-pack abs. The task: #183 on Earl’s list, “I never took Joy’s side.” Earl decides to support the next decision Joy makes–which, unfortunately, is inspired by an episode of Britney and Kevin’s reality show.

Joy sees that Britney and Kevin have a giant, disappearing TV, and she wants–no, she deserves–one too. So she manages to save up the $3000 and buys one, but it’s too big for her trailer home. She tries to return it, but because the item number on the receipt was ruined, the clerk won’t accept the return. She swears she’s going to get her money back, no matter what she has to do. On her way out of the store, she encounters a delivery truck with the keys in the ignition and steals it with the intent to sell it for her $3000. It falls to Earl to help her sell the truck, which unbeknownst to our flawed protagonists, has a man in the back, effectively making the pair kidnappers as well. Throughout, Joy is unyielding in her beliefs: She is owed her money back, and if she can’t t get it back from the store, the universe/life owes it to her.

In a show already steeped with lessons about the circular nature of karma, this episode additionally highlights the subjective morality of circumstance. If life owes us, to what lengths may we go to attain what should be ours? Is a crime of principle–“like when Rosa Parks stole that bus,” Joy points out–justified if it achieves what is “right?”

Joy also appeals to her ex’s devotion to his list of atonement items, claiming that since he never supported her in the past, he needs to do so now. As the escapade escalates, Earl finally has to admit that he’s supported her as far as he could, and that he is going to opt out of continuing to be an accessory to Joy’s single-minded pursuit of what she considers justice. In her mind, Joy thinks she’s no different from that “Robin Hood, Batman, Jesus stuff.” Earl says he doesn’t know about Jesus and Batman, but that stealing from the rich to help the poor did sound like it was up Robin Hood’s alley.

“Why do bad things always happen to good people?” Joy wonders after the inadvertent hostage runs into a tree, which adds assault to the mounting list of charges against her. But Joy is not a creature of depth and nuance. She is a simpleton, but doesn’t seem to understand that society has rules that she must adhere to.

But when we consider that Joy got into this whole mess because she thought Britney and Kevin were like royalty and the Federlinean lifestyle was worth emulating, we also have to ask ourselves who our role models are and why. The image of having a TV larger than your means and circumstances allow is a salient metaphor for the undue emphasis that we put on place on celebrities and television in general, and provokes us to think about what entertainment makes us think about, while we’re enjoying that very same entertainment. It’s very meta.

Jet Li’s “Fearless,” opening today and based on a true story, is a film about finding yourself. Jet Li’s character, Han Yaunjia, has one goal in life: to be the best fighter. And throughout the first half of the movie you will wonder if there is anything more to his character. You might even wonder if the first half of the movie will work its way to a solid payoff. Hang in there–it will.

The movie starts with Han Yaunjia easily handling three fighters, then flashes back to his childhood, where his need to fight and go undefeated started. The story jumps roughly 25 years into the future, and we see Han Yaunjia, already a master, fighting any and all challengers who are eager to defeat him.

Although some of the effects at times seem weak, the fast-paced martial arts will leave you oohing and ahhing. The fight choreography was done with precision, and two fights stand out in particular.

The first sets up the general arch of the movie, where we see Li’s character fall from his own personal pedestal. In a battle to the death with Master Chin, we watch two men fight, not for personal amusement–as with many of the fights in this film–but for survival. Even though Han Yaunjia survives, his family pays the price in the vendetta. It is the brutal murder of his family that breaks him and changes the person he is.

In truth, though, his family was already a distant thought in his mind. He does not see his daughter or take care of his mother or home. He threw his family to the side for his own personal pride and glory.

What we watch in the second half of the movie is his rebirth. Moved by the compassion of those who find him drifting, he starts a new life. We watch as he changes from who he was to who he becomes.

With his newfound set of values, Han Yaunjia loses the will to fight for the pleasure of winning. He learns from all his past mistakes and works to amend for all his sins. And he works to become a teacher to his disciples.

The movie does not disappoint those who come for a good martial-arts fight. Han Yaunjia may have changed his personality, but he remains a fighter until the end, even if his attitude toward fighting has changed. At this point, he fights not for himself but for all of China and the East.

The final battle is the second memorable fight. Done with grace and class, it shows the beauty of martial arts, with its flowing kicks and some very nice camera work. With a single punch, we watch the culminations of the transformation Li’s character has undergone and see the honor that a fight can convey.

— Posted by David Wittlin