Is your Netflix — or Amazon Prime or Hulu or HBO GO or … — queue a little forlorn these days?
Now in the fifth month of social distancing, have you watched everything seemingly worth watching? Are you resorting to reruns? Are you ready to throw your remote through the TV out of sheer boredom?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions and subscribe to Netflix, you might consider “Somebody Feed Phil,” which dropped its third season a few weeks back.
The aforementioned Phil is Phil Rosenthal, who is the creator, writer and executive producer of long-lived sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond.” He’s your classic New York Jewish guy, and he's married to Monica Horan, who played Amy MacDougall-Barone in “Raymond," converted to Judaism and makes occasional appearances on the show.
Anyway, in “Somebody Feed Phil,” Rosenthal travels the world, sampling that city’s cuisine. Yes, it’s akin to the late Anthony Bourdain’s assorted food documentary programs, but while Bourdain could be notoriously acerbic and judgmental, Rosenthal exudes a shmoozy, even goofy vibe — just listen to the show’s theme song, which sounds like something out of a 1970s Tim Conway sitcom. He also sticks to more mainstream places.
Serious food types might object, but this show isn’t for them — Rosenthal isn’t a chef and doesn’t pretend to be. This show isn’t about the nitty-gritty details of food and restaurants.
Rosenthal gets some guidance from assorted chef/foodie friends who seem to show up a little too conveniently in most episodes. Yes, this is a TV show, but the device is a bit tired.
While the show isn’t Jewish-focused, Rosenthal liberally uses Jewish tropes in his programs, including regular segments where he Skypes/FaceTimes/Zooms with his parents from wherever he might be.
And Jewish and Israeli food often is part of the show, even in unexpected places.
For example, in the first-season trip to New Orleans, Rosenthal visits a restaurant called Shaya that serves modern Israeli food. He also dines at the home of restaurant owner Alon Shaya for a rather loose Passover seder that includes red beans and rice and a unique take on gefilte fish.
In the second season, when he tours his hometown of New York, along with standbys like Peter Luger, he visits Nathan’s Hot Dogs (founded by Jews), Zabar’s Deli and Russ & Daughters Café, where he convinces comedian friend Tracy Morgan to try potato latkes, thin-sliced salmon and an egg cream.
Of course, it’s no surprise that one first season episode features Tel Aviv. Rosenthal even gets a little philosophical, noting that the media tends to focus too often on conflict in Israel.
“What I want to focus on is the part that maybe the news doesn’t cover — how beautiful the rest of the country is,” he said.
And off he goes, enjoying some shakshuka with “Dr. Shakshuka” and an actor and producer from the Israeli version of “Raymond.”
It isn’t long before restaurateur and author Michael Solomonov appears and guides Rosenthal around Philadelphia, stopping for hummus in a synagogue-themed restaurant, sabich (fried eggplant) sandwich in a restaurant named after that sandwich and Yemenese-style soup from the King of Soup.
During his tour, Solomonov notes that there’s no real Israeli food; it all comes from somewhere else.
After some further wandering, Rosenthal joins up again with Solomonov to tour an organic farm. Solomonov then improvises a lunch that includes grilled duck with pistachio.
The new season three episodes feature trips to Seoul, Chicago, London, Marrakesh and Montreal.
In the latter, he visits the legendary Schwartz’s Deli. There he learned how Montreal’s famous smoked meat is different from corned beef or pastrami: The spicing and cuts used are different and it isn’t boiled, unlike corned beef.
He also gets a lesson at St-Viateur Bagel about the differences between Montreal and New York bagels. The former are boiled in honey water then baked in wood-fired ovens.
So, is “Somebody Feed Phil” great or memorable television?
Not really, but it’s summer and the networks’ replacement offerings are lamer than usual. “Somebody Feed Phil” features some nice camera work of both the sights in each city, as well as the food. Fans of so-called “food porn” will be satiated.
There are only six episodes in each of the first two seasons and five in the third, so it’s not a huge time commitment. The shows run from anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour.
Rosenthal’s exuberant, slightly goofy persona can wear thin at times — can anyone seemingly be that happy-go-lucky all the time? — but you could certainly say the same about Bourdain’s often grumpy persona at times, too.
If you like food and/or travelogues, there’s a good chance you’ll like this. JN
Andy Gotlieb is the managing editor of Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent, a Jewish News-affiliated publication.