Shalom in the Home
Time: Tonight, 10-11
Midway through the premiere of TLC's ''Shalom in the Home," a reality series about quick-fixing broken families, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach tells a straying husband, ''I'm not judging you."
But with all due respect, Rabbi, you are judging him. Big time. Judge Judy big. Even -- gasp -- Dr. Phil big.
Boteach is the host of TV's latest foray into jump-starting domestic harmony, starting tonight at 10. Like the TV nannies who reparent spoiled children, he is a moral figure called in to jolt sense into dysfunctional families. The rabbi-author parks his Airstream trailer outside one home per episode and spends a week figuratively slapping the inhabitants' cheeks and yelling, ''Snap out of it!" As he counsels parents in his sleek Heal Mobile after spying on them and their kids though a monitoring system, he rejects touchy-feely sensitivity and restraint in favor of bluntness and opinion.
Not only is Boteach judgmental, he is self-righteous and manipulative in his hunger to restore peace -- ''shalom" -- in the home. Many viewers will recoil from his brash advice, such as ''Step up to the plate and be a man," and frequent use of language such as ''should" and ''supposed to." He's more like a sports coach than an analyst, a role that becomes literal tonight when he pushes the troubled Romero family into a game of basketball during which they must cooperate rather than fight.
Boteach will also alienate viewers who expect a family adviser to be selfless and objective. The rabbi, 39, is a child of divorce, and he readily declares his personal stake in bringing unhappy families back together. He openly brings his own emotional agenda into everything he says to the Romeros, whose four children have become unruly since an extramarital affair drove Mom and Dad apart. He's an avenger of sorts, and one with sexist and potentially homophobic assumptions; he notes about the Romeros, ''What this family is missing is a father and a husband." It will be interesting to see whether, in later episodes, he tries to bring shalom to the homes of families where divorce was the best solution, or to gay and lesbian families where love, and not necessarily gender, is the issue.
But Boteach is no stranger to controversy, and he seems to find it exhilarating. His books, including ''Kosher Sex," have tended to polarize Orthodox Jews, and his former friendship with Michael Jackson gave him a tabloid reputation in the eyes of many. But his show appears well-meaning, and I found him to be a likable mensch beneath all his bluster. His commitment is admirable as he tells us, ''We've so trivialized what divorce does to kids. . . . We've made it like it's no big deal. It's a big deal." And in the process of his invasive efforts to bring peace, he nicely elevates and restores the importance of love and family.
Like most shows that promote overnight cures, ''Shalom in the Home" is a bit misleading. Really, change and growth in a domestic ecosystem can take many years of hard work. But if you're looking for a dose of self-help TV meant to inspire viewers, you could certainly do a lot worse.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.