Hot on the heels of the massively popular Bridgerton series, Netflix is proud to announce its next must-see historical love story featuring diverse characters. Emmaleh: A Jewish Regency Romance offers an Ashkenazi spin on Jane Austen’s beloved 19th-century comedy of manners.
The Yiddish-British miniseries follows Emmaleh Hausmann, queen bee and yenta of her English shtetl. While hatching elaborate matchmaking schemes for her friends, Emmaleh has never been in love herself. She claims she’ll never marry, “unless it’s beshert.” Emmaleh can get away with such fakakta notions since her father makes “a nice living.”
Casting: Rumor has it that Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) is up for the titular role; however, the public is clamoring for an actual Jew. The series will be narrated by Carol Kane.
First Line: “Emmaleh Hausmann, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to stress or kvetch about.”
The Shpiel: Emmaleh lives alone with her widowed altakaka father, whose neuroses include a fear of babka and drafts—after the death of his wife due to overconsumption and plain old consumption. His catchphrase is “Fetch me my shmata!”
For all her charm, Emmaleh has an underdeveloped sense of guilt and an overdeveloped sense of chutzpah due to the absence of a Jewish mother. She has a propensity to meddle and stir up mishegas—but always with the best of intentions. Emmaleh is adored by the community. Her only critic is her sister’s brother-in-law, Mr. Menschley, a prestigious lawyer. He rolls his eyes and exclaims “Oy!” at Emmaleh’s every remark. They drive each other meshuggah, but could there be love beneath the bickering?
After Emmaleh makes a successful shidduch for her best friend and governess, she finds herself in need of a new unmarried companion. Enter Hannah, a sweet yet klutzy neighbor. She’s the perfect mitzvah project! Hannah has her eye on the local tailor, but Emmaleh doesn’t approve of the tradesman. She convinces Hannah to go after the eligible, albeit pompous, Rabbi Elijah.
When the rabbi tips his yarmulke in Emmaleh’s direction one too many times after shul, an unequivocal proposition, Emmaleh has to admit she was mistaken about his affections. Hannah is devastated but soon recovers after she buys a new dress and babushka from her crush, the tailor. Emmaleh shows admirable restraint by not pointing out that the outfit is a bit ungapatchka. She realizes that her friend has found the perfect match.
Further complications include the arrival of Nate Templeton, a schmoozer who captures Emmaleh’s interest over several rounds of mahjong. Around the same time, Emmaleh’s rival, Shayna Maidel, returns from her stay on a kibbutz, where she became committed to social justice. The entire shtetl kvells over Shayna, but Emmaleh can’t stand her tedious lectures.
Tension ensues at the Hausmann’s Passover Seder, when Shayna voices her anti-imperialist ideals, “Have you no conscience? Were we not slaves in Egypt?” Emmaleh tries to smooth things over by playing “Tumbalalaika” on the pianoforte, the only song she knows, but Shayna shows her up with a virtuosic performance of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.” (Hey, if Bridgerton can sneak in modern tunes, why not?)
Spoilers: To our heroine’s disappointment, the swoonworthy Nate turns out to be a red herring—Emmaleh’s least favorite kind of fish. The truth comes out when Shayna faints at her cousin’s bris and Nate catches her, crying out, “Mine Maideleh!” He’s secretly been courting Shayna ever since they met on the same kibbutz! And, worst of all, the schmuck doesn’t even sit shiva when his rich aunt dies, leaving him all her gelt!
Meanwhile, things heat up between Emmaleh and Menschley. A pivotal moment in their will-they/won’t-they romance occurs at a family bar mitzvah, when Menschley hoists the young man of honor up on a chair during the hora. Emmaleh can’t help but admire Menschley’s muscular arms and the faintest glimmer of schvitz on his forehead. (Note: in the spirit of Austen, and unlike Bridgerton, there are no sex scenes or close-ups of tuchus. This is entertainment for the whole mishpucha.)
Finally, after months of flirtatious arguing, Menschley proposes in the garden while he tenderly wipes some schmutz off Emmaleh’s cheek. Though not usually one for schmaltzy proposals, she’s so farklempt she could plotz. Menschley lives up to his name and agrees to move in with Emmaleh and her father. They live happily ever after, and not once does Mr. M. pester them to get rid of the plastic on the drawing-room furniture—even though it’s anachronistic.