In order to prepare for Rebar, I recently watched my Bar Mitzvah video. I haven’t had such a horrifying viewing experience since the Ozymandias episode of Breaking Bad. There may have been fewer Neo-Nazi methamphetamine makers at my Bar Mitzvah than in the fictionalized version of Albuquerque, but I felt the same emotions that I did while watching that episode: nausea and terror as I watched a beloved character die. In this case the beloved character was my memory of myself as a suave, charming thirteen-year-old A.E.Wright Middle School Honor Roll rockstar. Just like DEA Agent Hank Schrader, the character that I remembered myself to be was also fictional. And dead.
As a screenwriter, I spend most of my day writing screenplays-- and by writing screenplays, I mean watching television and then reading online recaps of the television I’ve just watched. In the spirit of this event, my daily psyche, and the terror of that video, I’d like to analyze my Bar Mitzvah as if it was an episode of groundbreaking television. This feels masturbatory, but then again, this is about me at age thirteen.
Ethan’s Bar Mitzvah: C+
I’ve heard a lot about the Bar Mitzvah episode of Ethan’s life -- not since the “College” episode of the Sopranos has there been so much hoopla over a coming of age story that involves family tension. But not only did Ethan’s father not strangle anyone, he spent the whole video choked up himself. It was embarrassing.
The episode takes a simple but promising premise and does absolutely nothing with it. The entire point was that Ethan becomes a man. Pretty unrealistic. To be fair, the episode is clearly weighed down by fan expectations, but not only does Ethan not kiss a single girl at the reception, it’s still, spoiler alert, several seasons away.
Overall the episode foreshadows many things, but none of them manhood. Ethan’s inability to enjoy the present moment and his odd relationship with his family both become so overdone in later seasons that it’s important to remember how ground- breakingly original they were when this episode aired. Kudos to the writing staff for realizing this potential for awkwardness.
Also, the relationship between Ethan and his family felt forced -- there was an almost jarring lack of chemistry. The character of Ethan’s mother (underused but always terrific) is extremely proud of him, and yet it’s clear he has no idea how to communicate with her. Will Ethan resolve his issues? It’s a plot that will rear its head again in the Emmy- nominated season 25 episode “Therapy.”
Additionally, what happened to the character of Becky Friedlander? What was the point of all of the fantasy sequences between Ethan and Becky if she didn’t even show up to his Bar Mitzvah? And why did the fantasy sequences continue even after it was clear she had no interest? And why are the fantasy sequences still continuing?
And why won’t Becky Friedlander follow Ethan on Instagram now? He likes her posts.
Finally, re-watching the episode made me realize just how seriously Ethan takes everything. This thirteen-year-old is so focused on adequately reading a foreign language that he’s completely missing out on the entire supporting cast. Hopefully he’ll learn how to appreciate the present moment. Or maybe the show just needs a better actor.
On the plus side, the production design felt both authentically Jewish and awkward (kudos to the wardrobe consultant who designed Ethan’s tie).
Ultimately Ethan’s Bar Mitzvah is a subpar episode of television. No Jewish rite of passage can save an underdeveloped protagonist. Or an unlikable character. But maybe that’s what being a man is: being able to look back on past episodes and recognize that you’re a character who’s constantly developing, and look to future seasons as opportunities to accept the way the characters around you are written.
Luckily, some of these issues might finally be addressed now that Therapy is getting its own spin-off.