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November 16, 2006

Television: Will Shabbat dinner drama hold ‘Nine’ viewers captive?

http://www.jewishjournal.com/arts/article/television_will_shabbat_dinner_drama_hold_nine_viewers_captive_20061117

Rabbi Kates and his wife, Sheryl, recently invited their doctor-son and his girlfriend of two years to Shabbat dinner. Nothing too out of the ordinary there -- unless you consider the fact that the couple is not married, although the young woman is pregnant and they broke up during a 52-hour crisis where they were held hostage at a bank. And did we mention the Shabbat dinner took place on a soundstage and the rabbi's wife is played by JoBeth Williams? You gotta love sweeps month!

The new series, "The Nine," created by siblings Hank ("Without a Trace") and K.J. Steinberg ("Judging Amy"), tells the story of nine strangers at a L.A. bank and a robbery that will "only take five minutes" -- until, in TV fashion, something goes horribly wrong. The flashbacks -- very small ones that lead every episode -- only hint to the whole story of what happened during the 52-hour standoff.

This month, the ABC drama will air something rare in the world of television: a Shabbat dinner complete with accurately pronounced blessings, nonstereotypical portrayals of Jewish parents who don't kvetch throughout a scene and a cutie-patootie (read: not nebbishy) Jewish doctor played by Scott Wolf ("Party of Five"). His Judaism wasn't put out there as a passing mention, neither was it over-the-top, as many sitcoms are apt to do.

In the first episode, we learned of Dr. Jeremy Kates' religious background after a funeral for one of the hostages who was killed in the bank. (As a result of the hostage situation, the survivors create a sort of "family.") "Jews bring food," he tells mourning younger sister Franny Rios (Camille Guaty), as he hands her a very large basket. "It's what we do ... helps stuff down our feelings."

In stark contrast to past TV seasons, "The Nine" joins only a handful of curret shows (all dramas) -- including CBS's "3 lbs."; NBC's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" and "Heroes," and ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" -- with characters who have proclaimed their Jewishness. (Oddly enough, the overtly Jewish sitcom character is pretty MIA right now.)

The folks at ABC describe the plot of "The Nine" as "one of hope and rebirth, as the characters continue to re-invent themselves in a positive way or are haunted by fateful decisions from which they're still struggling to recover."

The audience finds out what decisions haunt Jeremy and his pregnant girlfriend, hospital social worker Lizzie Miller (Jessica Collins), in the sixth episode, airing Nov. 22, titled, "The Outsiders." Lizzie doesn't tell Jeremy she's pregnant until days after the hostage situation -- although the two had been talking about getting engaged beforehand.

Yes, Jeremy is a flawed character (he sleeps with Franny after the funeral), but it is a TV show and, as Rabbi Paul Kipnes, of Reform Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, said, "Everybody has tsuris, otherwise it wouldn't be interesting. [Jeremy] is an accomplished Jewish doctor, bright, handsome, outgoing, confident -- and profoundly human."

Kipnes, a big fan of the show, said the Kates' portrayal of a Jewish family "was refreshing. [In the previews,] I saw something about Shabbat and thought, 'This was good.' [Jeremy] has lunch with his mom, who is not neurotic and doesn't shriek, shout 'oy gevalt' or pressure him," Kipnes continued. "She speaks to him out of love. His father starts to pressure him a little bit during Shabbat dinner, but then he just stops and listens ... this is not Woody Allen."

When Jeremy does tell his parents that Lizzie is pregnant, his father replies, "I'm at once overjoyed and heartbroken."

The guilt resting on Jeremy's shoulders is immense. First, his impatience with an ATM line led him to bring Lizzie with him into the bank (tinted windows prevented those outside from seeing the situation unfold inside). Second, when two of the hostages are shot, he is unable to save either of them - and we later see how this effects his post-hostage surgeries.

Further, the group was taken hostage on a Friday, and Jeremy tells Lizzie as they sit terrified in the bank, "My parents will be expecting us for Friday night dinner." Jeremy also can't seem to open up to his parents, who want so much to know what happened.

"We have a crisis, and then its over," Kipnes said. "And in a sense, the world and family and friends want people to get back to life. After a tragedy, we have to create a new normal."

"The Nine's" clever writing and flushed-out characters will draw you in if you start watching. And despite the dark storyline, the show itself does have moments of humor, as when Jeremy offers to help Franny deal with a situation at her nephew's Catholic school.

"I'm Jewish," he tells her. "I have no fear of nuns."

"The Nine" airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. If you want to catch up, you can watch past episodes online.

For more information on "The Nine," or to watch episodes for free, visit www.abc.com.

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