In the 2½ seasons “Andi Mack” has been on the air, it has dealt with family secrets, bullying, guns, love, betrayal, multiculturalism, religion, sexism, privacy, lies, military deployments, standing up to authority, jealousy, mental health and more than a little teenage angst.
This week’s episode (Friday, 6 p.m., Disney Channel) of the made-in-Utah show deals with death. And it’s funny. Really.
Cyrus (Joshua Rush) is mourning the loss of his grandmother. He and his family are sitting shiva, the weeklong mourning period that’s unfamiliar to Cyrus’ non-Jewish friends.
But, supportive friends that they are, Andi (Peyton Elizabeth Lee), Buffy (Sofia Wylie) and Jonah (Asher Angel) are there for Cyrus.
Jonah — unaware that Jewish custom is to have the burial as quickly as possible — asks to see the body of Cyrus’ bubbe to pay his respects. He’s surprised when he learns she’s already been buried.
“She’s not laid out somewhere?” he asks.
“This is a shiva,” Cyrus says. “The only thing that gets laid out are the deli platters.”
There are a lot of jokes like that in the episode, written by Jonathan Hurwitz. There’s a plot line in which Cyrus’ relatives are shocked and dismayed that Andi’s father, Bowie (Trent Garrett), has brought a kugel (a noodle casserole) devoid of raisins to the shiva.
Later in the episode, Cyrus tells his friends, “You know the story behind every major Jewish holiday — they tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat!”
You don’t often see religious traditions portrayed like this. And it’s more rare still to see Jewish traditions play such a central, sympathetic role.
“Shiva’s about friends and family being together to comfort one another and share stories,” Cyrus says.
“That sounds like a really nice thing to do when you’ve just lost someone,” Andi says.
“It is,” Cyrus replies. “Except … it lasts seven days. We take a long time to say goodbye.”
This being “Andi Mack,” that’s not the only thing going on. Andi and her grandmother Celia (Lauren Tom) are at odds over details of Andi’s parents’ upcoming wedding. Jonah has another panic attack — a strong storyline that lets young viewers know that we all deal with issues.
Speaking of modeling good behavior, Cyrus finally comes out to Jonah, a development that’s not a big deal — which makes a statement by not being a Major Event.
I know I’m repeating myself, but “Andi Mack” is an exceptional series that kids can learn a lot from while they’re being entertained. And, unlike so many shows aimed at kids and tweens, this one is watchable for parents and grandparents, too.
The question hanging over the show is not answered in this episode, however. There’s been no mention of Andi’s grandfather Ham since the actor who plays him, Stoney Westmoreland, was arrested in Salt Lake City on charges he tried to set up a sexual encounter with a person he believed to be a 13-year-old boy.
To repeat myself again, Westmoreland was not a regular on “Andi Mack.” He was a supporting character when he did appear. And kids who don’t know what happened wouldn’t have noticed his absence in the four new episodes that have aired since he was arrested and fired.
But, assuming Bowie and Bex (Lilan Bowden) actually do get married, it will be tough to have the wedding without somehow explaining how the father of the bride isn’t there.