Jewish sitcom set in New Zealand is a hit on ITVX

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Jewish sitcom set in New Zealand is a hit on ITVX

Simone Nathan, creator and star of Kid Sister spills the matzoh balls on her new TV show and being one of only 5,000 Kiwi Jews

A tv comedy set in New Zealand about a Jewish twenty-something living at home paying “emotional rent”? This I had to watch. I did and I loved it. I loved Kid Sister so much that I got in touch with writer/creator/lead Simone Nathan to find out more. Sadly, there was no offer of being flown out to New Zealand for the interview and Simone was very busy filming season 2, so I settled for a (very early) Saturday morning Zoom.

I’d prepared some ice breakers just in case Simone, who at 31, has a rather impressive CV including studying in Melbourne and NYU, internships on Bloodline and Inside Amy Schumer , needed thawing. I would give her my favourite lines from the show and ask what hers were.

“Go to your room, Lulu!”

“I’m 29!” or

“You’d make a good Jew – you’re already quite paranoid,” were up there, but not needed.

We laughed from the word go, Simone telling me how “hilarious” her real life is with she and her brother now living at home: “My parents love having us here, whenever we threaten to leave they get so depressed”. Hmm, maybe they’d like my ungrateful Gen Z-ers too.

Simone Herman

I asked if her on-screen character Lulu’s parents, especially the fabulous South African mum, were anything like her own parents. She replied that they had the core of everything she loved about her parents: “They really speak their mind, they’re really funny and they’re really loving”. Gosh, they really must all like each other as her real-life brother, boyfriend and dad star in the show. However, she shared, and I don’t want to give any spoilers, she cannot keep secrets from them like her character does.

Simone’s real mum is from South Africa and her dad’s family were the first Jews in New Zealand in the 1840s. Simone went to the Auckland Jewish school Kadimah until the age of 12 and then out of the choice of Bnei Akiva or Habonim, chose the former. Despite living in the United States for most of the last decade, her heritage gave her the yearning to create a “quintessentially Jewish show”.

With a Jewish population of around 5,000, it is no surprise that 15-year-old Kiwis take the three- hour flight to Australia to meet Jewish counterparts who they will eventually join in Israel on their gap year.

Simone and her real-life partner Paul Williams, who plays Ollie in the show

“Jewish continuity is one of the biggest problems, I think, facing our people now because we don’t live in the same tight-knit communities as we were once forced to,” Simone explains. “I happen to love the culture and I don’t want it to die out.” Indeed when she moved to New York, her parents thought she would find it easy to meet a nice Jewish boy, but in fact she ended up having a long-distance relationship with a “non-Jewish Catholic Kiwi.” Granted she had been raised within the Jewish culture at home, but “outside of the house, I was in completely integrated groups”. Comedian Paul Williams – who plays her love-interest Ollie in the show – and Simone have been together for five years and in that time he has taken the time to learn about Judaism and is converting. Simone feels that this will give her a partner with an understanding of “both of the worlds” that she comes from.

Simone and I drew lots of parallels between the Kiwi and British communities, but the diminutive size of the Kiwi population is a real issue for romantic relationships. “I am definitely my own fourth cousin,” she shared and I roared with laughter. But in fact, it’s not really that funny. Tay Sachs is talked about in the show and in turn have discussed it around our family dinner table.

After her internships, Simone spent her time writing scripts and attempting to “break into the industry”. I’m sure she worked very hard, but this young woman’s humour, humility, charisma and intelligence could not have hurt her plight. An American production company eventually bought one of her scripts and in a matter of weeks she had a manager, an agent and a lawyer. Things went on from there and she developed this show which “I get to act in and write and cast all my friends and family”. All very kosher, but Simone says that having a non-Jewish director was perfect to bring a non-Jewish perspective to the show, enabling her take on the viewer’s experience. This is something I had discussed with my own 25-year-old emotional renter. It’s great for Jews as we get all the in-jokes, but how would gentiles get how funny the show’s non-Jewish character’s pronunciation of chag sameach is or his take on Succot being “the one where Jews sit in cages and shake fruit”? Simone had thought about it too and was advised by her mentor, “the godfather of New Zealand television”, John Barnett, to “trust that your audience is intelligent and they will catch up”. (No Fleabag-esque fourth wall explanation here). She also added a non-Jewish best friend character to help call things out.

Kid Sister, directed by Aidee Walker, is currently showing in New Zealand, Canada, Israel and most recently here in the UK on ITVX. After glowing articles in Ha’Aretz and on, hopefully Australia and the US will be next. It is a charming and relatable blend of humour and thought-provoking issues – a Kiwi triumph with an all-female director team and a local soundtrack.

We ended our conversation with Simone categorically stating that the storyline is entirely fictional, especially with regard to the grandpa, and that none of the hilarious events actually happened as they are shown. What are they? You’ll just have to watch it and see.

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