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Goodbye Talmud, Hello Texas

Like the humble bagel, Kevin (Probably) Saves The World has wandered far from its Jewish roots. Based on the Talmudic concept of tzadikim nistarim, the series stars Jason Ritter as one of the 36 Righteous, whose presence on earth prevents the apocalypse. However, ABC’s version replaces any hint of mystical Judaism with goyish feel-good, pioneering what the A.V. Club calls a “religious hugging dramedy.” In fact, the show is so bereft of Jews that one reviewer claimed that it was a post-Trump “attempt to reach the Christian aspect of middle America.”

Set in Taylor, Texas, the pilot follows Kevin’s less-than-triumphant return to his hometown after a failed suicide. Single, unemployed, and perpetually dazed, he’s a decidedly ‘meh’ antihero. Although he struggles to relate to his widowed sister Amy and teenage niece Reese, he’s too passive to merit their increasing outrage over his behavior. Instead, their anguished interactions suggest that Kevin was originally written as the estranged dad: Reese (Chloe East) accuses him of trying to “come into our lives and fix everything,” while Amy (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) insists that she “can’t be the only person who cares about this relationship anymore.” Rarely does the deadbeat uncle inspire such drama, nor receive so many pitying looks over a perfectly Hollywood appearance.

If Kevin seems harshly judged, it’s because the show is intent on comparing him to his angelic sidekick, Yvette (Kimberly Hébert Gregory). A self-described “warrior for God,” she appears after a local meteor shower and introduces Kevin to a life of “spiritual value.” Her plan for world salvation is founded on hugs, or “anointed embraces,” but as the token Magical Negro/Angry Black Woman, she also runs over his car with a tractor and slaps him upside the head.

Had the series acknowledged its Jewish premise, it might have achieved more than sitcom televangelism. Unfortunately, like Kevin himself, it’s merely “not terrible,” and ultimately unworthy of a post-Chanukah binge.

Photo credit Ryan Green/ABC

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