Chanukah special isnt special enough

After decades of holiday specials starring animatronic snowmen and red-nosed reindeers, Jewish children are finally getting their own TV idols. If only they were as cool as their non-Jewish predecessors.

The nonprofit JTN Productions obviously has good intentions with “Chanukah Stories,” a reading of two holiday classics. The program will premiere on KQED on Christmas Day.

The half-hour show is framed with 3-D animation: Zak Mak, the umpteenth-great-grandson of Judah Maccabee, is wishing for Chanukah to start so he can have gifts, latkes and gelt. “Diz” the Dreidel spins in, and after an incomplete lesson on the significance of the “nesh gadol haya shem,” the style segues from flashy animation to old-fashioned book stills.

The two stories are typical Jewish fare — one set in a shtetl, the other focusing on a Holocaust survivor. The first, “Moishe’s Miracle,” the tale of a generous milkman, his shrewish wife and a magic latke pan, is narrated by Bob Saget, looking so bored he might cry and delivering the text in monotone — and this is a guy who hosted a show starring people getting hit in the privates with golf clubs. At least it ends on a light note.

Jami Gertz narrates the second story, “The Tie Man’s Miracle” with a lively Yiddish accent, but the story is such a downer that the epilogue with Zak Mak and Diz is almost inappropriate. In fact, a 5-year-old critic (this writer’s son) burst into tears after the segment.

The books themselves are beautifully illustrated; Stephen T. Johnson’s watercolors of the tie man’s ravaged face evoke the pain and depth of the character.

But one hoped that “Chanukah Stories” might offer something to Jewish children something less serious — and a little more “with it.” A bunch of animated Maccabees kicking Syrian butt and rekindling the flame, perhaps, or a segment about the only kid in school who celebrates Chanukah — something other than the same Ashkenazi-centric tales everyone already knows. Not that these stories should be forgotten — but there has to be more to the miracle of Chanukah than Polish milkmen and sadness.

This is a disappointing effort from JTN, considering its excellent Jewish programming in the past. It assumes its viewers already know the events that created the holiday of “Chanukah,” but all would be better served if more attention had been paid to telling that timeless story in a way that would engage children — and give them a story they can repeat excitedly on the playground.

Regardless, Jewish children will have something to distract them from the rest of the meshuggas on TV the morning of the 25th. It’s unfortunate, however, that the flashy animation and Jewish actors aren’t enough to make it relevant.