Forget ‘Cruella,’ meet young Fruma-Sarah. The Jewish character origin stories you definitely don’t need.
In answer to the question no one asked, Disney will soon make us privy to how exactly Cruella de Vil became so cruel and devilish. Sadly, it appears that it has less to do with a Dalmatian bite and a wasting smoking addiction than the‘70s, Sex Pistols London, Manic Panic hair dye and the stifling expectations of her wealthy family or something.
In the landscape of “Ratched” and “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” we appear doomed to suffer through these unnecessary inquiries into iconic characters’ early lives and signature features. Full disclosure, we actually have a bead on quite a few more projects like this in development.
To warn you — and to shame the industry-wide impulse to conjure this sort of disposable bildungsroman — we have catalogued the Jewish origin stories coming down the pike. Look upon these works and despair.
‘Sveng & Shy’ (Svengali from ‘Trilby;’ Shylock from ‘The Merchant of Venice’)
Director: Mel Gibson, based on a scenario by Ezra Pound
In 18th Century Genoa (there’s no accounting for the time and place) a young Shylock and Svengali are on the make. Shy’s the money man behind Sveng’s hypnotic business of wooing young chanteuses and propelling them to stardom. It sounds bad, we know, but it’s actually humanizing when you realize that these two maligned archetypes actually had difficult home lives and distant fathers. When one young woman they both have designs on causes a rift in their friendship, the two chums become the bitter figures we know from literature. The David Irving Reading Society already gave this one five stars.
‘Sarah, Who is Frum’ (Fruma-Sarah from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’)
Director: Alma Har’el
Shtetl life ain’t easy — especially when your husband has eyes for younger women! But if anyone was made for Anatevka’s intermittent ethnic cleansings and the sheer effort of a traditional, pre-electric Shabbat dinner, it’s Lazar Wolf’s indomitable wife, Sarah. Spoilers: She dies when a mule kicks her.
‘The Sandy Diaries’ (Sandy Cohen from ‘The OC’)
Created by: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
You think you know Sandy Cohen, the mid-aughts Atticus Finch. But did you know he went to law school? Watch as the UC Berkeley JD candidate (played by “To All the Boys”’ Noah Centineo) challenges the professor in his Torts class and rails against peers looking to work in corporate law. You’ll learn more about his love story with Kirsten — handed to us in voiceover narration from his casebook — and the fateful accident with a Minoxidil truck that resulted in his prodigious eyebrows. Because this series is by the “Riverdale” show runner, Sandy will also sell drugs, become the accidental leader of a campus cult and have regular confabs with the ghost of Louis Brandeis.
‘Hesh!’(Hesh Rabkin from ‘The Sopranos’)
Executive Producer: David Chase
Tony Soprano isn’t the only one who’ll get a backstory next year. Get hip to Hesh, a young Yid with a golden ear for a Motown adjacent sound. Founding F-Note Records in the ‘50s, he’ll get by by stealing credit from Black artists before buddying up with the DiMeo crime family and getting some of that vig. It won’t be problematic at all! He went to school with Philip Roth. He likes horses (wait’ll you learn why)! It’s the new “Vinyl” (and will be cancelled just as quickly)!
‘Rhod Scholar’ (Rhoda from ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show,’ ‘Rhoda’)
Executive Producer: James L. Brooks
It’s school days for Rhoda Morgenstern, a Bronx kid with a style all her own. She starts the series timid, but gains her trademark bravura when a gust of wind blows a scarf loose from a clothesline and wraps it dashingly around her head, making her the “It” girl of Dewitt Clinton High School. Subplots include her dad’s early goes at a lounge singing career, her mom’s squabbles with an antisemitic landlord and her sister, Brenda’s, inchoate eating disorder.
‘Older Woman Customer: Origins’ (from ‘When Harry Met Sally…’)
Director: Rob Reiner
You know her catchphrase, but you don’t know her story. After a grueling day of uncertainty and compromise — what to wear, what train line to take, how to tell her daughter she’s wasting her time with that boy in the hair metal band — a woman reaches a pivotal decision and takes command of her own destiny. Enough vacillating. Enough whatabouting. A deli. A menu. A choice. She will have what she’s having.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com.