Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Spoiler Alert for Homeland and NCIS Fans

Have you noticed that when you want to talk about a memorable scene from a TV show you have to ask for a show of hands to see who has actually watched the program? Those who have the show cued up on the DVR but have not viewed it cannot participate. I have waited six months to discuss two scenes from Homeland (Dec. 16) and NCIS (Jan. 8) that I watched last winter. Now that my colleagues have caught up thanks to binge-watching on Netflix, I can share my curiosity.
It will come as no surprise, given the subject matter of these programs, both highly rated and critically acclaimed, that they featured heart stopping scenes of murder and violence. With Homeland, it was the bombing of Vice President Walden’s memorial service and on NCIS it was the assassination of Eli David and Jackie Vance at Shabbat dinner.  What struck me is that in the immediate aftermath of this violence, familiar characters Sol and Ziva were saying Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.
In the Venn diagram of popular culture and rituals for the dying, you might see an Irish wake on TV or the general, non-specific memorial service. I have seen New Orleans style funerals with full musical escort and the televised home going of Whitney Houston. In these instances, there is a sense of celebration of life and accomplishments, nostalgia and memory.
But in 2013, two respected television shows – granted they are dramas with a capital D – had protagonists recite the mourner’s prayer because it was not only in character, but conveyed the depth of the loss.
After decades of watching such over-the-top, ludicrous depictions of bar and bat mitzvahs (remember Square Pegs? Frasier? The Simpsons?), it is heartening to see a Jewish ritual depicted on television that doesn’t involve a stereotype or degradation of values or meaning.
We’ve come a long way.
Photo: Howard Gordon, executive producer of Homeland, was honored by the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation last month. Photo by Melanie Einzig.

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