By Kyle Price-Livingston
Let us consider Thumper, the rabbit from Bambi. While the talkative bunny has dozens of lines of dialogue in the film, the only one anybody really remembers is “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” This is good advice for casual social situations, though perhaps a bit impractical if you, say, review shows for a living. What I wonder, though, is about the inverse of that expression. “If you can say something nice, say it.” seems, to me, like a more positive way of going about things. It’s certainly the approach being taken by Rabbi Moshe Mones (credited as Paul Mones) in his adaptation of Yitta Halberstaim and Judith Leventhal‘s bestselling books Small Miracles.
The books are basically collections of true stories of good things happening to good people, intended to inspire warm feelings and, above all, faith. Not faith in any particular religion, necessarily, but faith in a positive force behind the movements of the universe, faith, in short, that miracles can happen. They’re the type of books you might find on an older relative’s coffee table: sweet, well-intentioned and inoffensive.
Each episode of Small Miracles recreates one of Halberstaim and Leventhal’s collected stories, using talented actors and professional grade production values. These vignettes are the backbone of the series and they are, by and large, excellent. Unfortunately, the show consists of more than just these stories.
Notice how neither of the aphorisms we started with addresses the issue of having something weird to say? Well somebody needs to come up with one that does, because everything that happens outside of the actual stories (i.e. everything written specifically for the show) is deeply puzzling.
Let us begin with the opening credits, featuring graphics and a theme song so schmaltzy and out of step with the modern aesthetic that I initially thought I was about to watch an ironic, Adult Swim style mock-sitcom. This impression was actually reinforced by the sudden appearance of Judd Hirsch and Kathryn Kates, who have a brief conversation to set up the theme of the episode. The two play a married couple who live in a cabin in the woods with a band. “A band of what?” you ask. Just a band, like you’d find on a late night talk show. They sit around with their instruments ready to engage in witty banter with our “hosts” or play appropriate interstitial music. I have no idea why.
Actually, that’s not true. It’s because somebody decided the show needed to be more than a collection of short stories and tried to make it feel cohesive by having Hirsch and Kates set up and close out each episode. I suppose it’s meant to feel like sitting around listening to your grandparents tell stories, and it does…assuming your grandparents were Paul Allen and Joan Rivers.
Why is there a band? Why does a dove turn into a pterodactyl and then back into a dove? Was the theme song written for a late-80s family sitcom that never saw the light of day? Is the whole thing intentionally odd? And if so, why? If there’s one thing I have learned from this show, it’s not to sweat the small stuff. Yes the bookends of each episode are strange, but everything in between is well done, and the overwhelming positivity of the project makes it more than worthwhile.
Check out Small Miracles on their website or YouTube! And listen to our interview with Executive Producer David Catalano and Cinematographer Adrian Correia from Vancouver WebFest 2015!