Television reviews

Quirky ‘Granite Flats’ a charmer; ‘Kalman’ plumbs Holocaust loss

A 50ish newsroom colleague was recently asked by one of our 20ish interns if he felt his life had gone by too fast. His response was to threaten several acts that contravene Miami Herald personnel policy as well as a few state and federal laws. (Don’t worry, I saw her this morning and she’s still among the breathing, though that romance-of-journalism gleam in her eyes has dimmed.)

Mine, however, was to nod in affirmation. It’s startling how quickly so many of the milepost events of the 20th century have slipped into the unreliable fog of memory. Sunday’s television schedule offers a couple of attempts to peer back at the shadows in the mist and recall what they meant.

The more amiable of the two is Granite Flats, a series that debuts with back-to-back episodes. It’s a surprisingly quirky mixture of comedy, drama and science fiction set in a little Colorado mountain town in 1962. I say surprisingly because Granite Flats is the first attempt at scripted entertainment by Brigham Young University’s BYUtv, mostly known for religious programming that even its biggest fans would concede is not a barrel of laughs.

But BYUtv has been slowly converting itself into a more general family channel. And Granite Flats is solid evidence that family entertainment need not be straight-laced or simple-minded. (Nor a religious tract: There’s not a word about Mormons in the show.) If you can accept the fact that there aren’t going to be any serial killers, zombies or transgender hitmen, you may find yourself charmed by this tale of three nerdy kids uncertainly navigating a landscape cratered by social ostracism, political paranoia and personal loss.

The action in Granite Flats is set in motion by a mysterious glowing object that streaks over the town one night, scattering debris in its wake that shatters windows and kills sheep. In a town where Cold War paranoia has been stoked by the presence of an Army post where some kind of secret research is going on, theories of an attack by Soviets or space aliens quickly gain a foothold.

Into this fractured milieu arrive newly widowed Air Force nurse Beth Milligan (Annie Tedesco, The Secret Life of an American Teenager) and her young son Arthur (Jonathan Morgan Heit). Their greeting is anything but cordial: Her boss at the hospital is a martinet, and Arthur’s double-dog whammy as a new kid without a dad makes him a natural target for the school bully. The silver lining is that their quick fistfight helps Arthur bond with the bully’s other victims, pretty but prissy science geek Madeline (Malia Tyler) and her dizzy minion Timmy (Charlie Plummer, Boardwalk Empire).

The result is like a oddball cross between The Goonies, The Wonder Years and Encyclopedia Brown. Granite Flats pinballs from sweet to wistful to poignant to funny. A mawkish streak sometimes briefly shows through — characters have a disconcerting tendency to speak aloud to God, dead relatives and for all I know KGB case officers listening through hidden microphones — but is quickly eclipsed by Granite Flats’ ability to stick its tongue firmly in cheek. It’s hard not to love a show where a girl plaintively interrupts a civics lesson to ask, “Miss Grable, will we have to eat from the soup kitchen if the commies come?”

The underlying thread, as Arthur and his mom try to regain their footing, seems to be a quintessentially ’60s message: Keep on keepin’ on. It’s not merely for the sake of nostalgia that Granite Falls’ theme is the old Skeeter Davis record The End of the World in which she asks why her eyes keep seeing and heart keeps beating: Don’t they know it’s the end of the world? It ended when you said goodbye ...

‘Finding Kalman’

Saying goodbye is also the subject of Finding Kalman, a documentary about Aventura Holocaust survivor Anna Jacobs that airs on the 59th anniversary of the World War II uprising of Warsaw Jews against their Nazi tormenters. The revolt was crushed — the Soviet army, waiting nearby, failed to give the Jewish resistance the support it was expecting — and Jacobs’ family, including her 10-year-old brother, Kalman, was swept away in the aftermath.

Finding Kalman contains no tales of derring-do, nor lurid descriptions of Nazi atrocities. Jacobs doesn’t even know, in any real detail, what happened to her family. She and Kalman had escaped the Jewish ghetto and were living in different homes south of Warsaw. One day the Nazis rounded up all the Jews in the area. When Jacobs was released from a concentration camp at the end of the war, all she could find of her relatives was a single photo of Kalman, rescued from a garbage can by a neighbor boy.

Her memories are now as creased and faded as that photo of a little boy who was erased from the world before he had any chance to put a mark on it. All Jacobs can really remember is the pain of loss, a pain that has rippled through four generations of the new family she created in America. One by one they parade before the camera to tell of their fantasies of making their mother (or grandmother, or great-grandmother) whole, of finding Kalman. But he remains nothing but an increasingly hazy face in an old photo.

And still Jacobs cannot let go. “I’m carrying the trauma of my loss,” she says. “I don’t want to forget it. I want to remember as long as I live.” Deniers take note: Not only did the Holocaust happen, it’s still going on.

Read more Glenn Garvin: On TV stories from the Miami Herald

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