Rough Diamonds is a mix of Shitsel and The Godfather that’s filled with enthralling twists and turns. While it may ultimately be an imperfect package, this is a journey that’s ultimately worth taking. The series shines a spotlight on the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Antwerp. The twists and turns don’t overshadow this story about the power of family and the necessity of community.
Where this series shines is in its portrayal of family dynamics. The Wolfsons so perfectly illustrate the experience siblings have as adults. While they may spend time causing each other all kinds of problems, they love each other deeply at the end of the day. Even though Noah (Kevin Janssens) has left his community, his family welcomes him back regardless of the opinions of the rest of the community. This makes it clear how strong the bonds between this family are.
This series also illustrates how powerful grief is. Even though the tragedy occurs at the very beginning of this story, the repercussions are clear in every moment. The loss of Yanki clearly informs the decisions of each of these characters. It’s heartbreakingly realistic to show how there can be no “resolution” when a loved one dies. Watching each character work through their grief makes it easier to get to know them.
Rough Diamonds is also a welcome change for Jewish representation. This could have been yet another account of a wayward child being outright rejected by his community after choosing to leave. Instead, Noah is integrated back into the community in his own way. His entry point is his son, whom everyone adores. Noah’s re-examination of his roots is what adds a layer of depth to his character and shows that he does have a future with his family if he wants it.
Relatedly, the character of Tommy (Casper Knopf) illustrates how beautiful the Jewish future is. It’s beyond endearing watching this boy fall so deeply in love with Judaism. It is a shame that there isn’t more time spent on this storyline. This could have been a deeper story of re-connection. It would have been interesting to more deeply contrast Tommy’s journey with that of his father. While there’s an opening for his father to reconnect with his roots, he still has a choice to make.
If there is a criticism to be made regarding Jewish representation, it’s that this series feels the need to lean into some harmful stereotypes. It feels unnecessary to have a heist series involving Jews so enmeshed in the brutal diamond industry. Of course, Jewish people can be involved in criminal activity. It’s just an unfortunate choice to lean into this dynamic. This series could have focused on the changing times and how this particular family reconciles their traditions with a completely changed profession.
On this note, the heist itself falls slightly flat. Of course, this was never about the heist. However, there could have been a much more effective lead-up. The consequences were obviously a long time coming. However, the double-crossing and confusing alliances don’t come together as they could have in a different story. It’s a shame to think of what could have been when the series was supposed to be at its peak.
The romance is such a sweet one. Though it has a heartbreaking ending, it was sweet while it lasted. This family comes together under the worst possible circumstances. Yet, they’re right for each other at this moment. In another reality, these two could have been perfect together. They could have supported one another in the midst of horrific pain and loss.
Rough Diamonds has so much to love in spite of its imperfect package. The strength of the series is the focus on family and how these powerful bonds can be harnessed for good or evil. There are plenty of stories left to tell with these chaotic and dysfunctional characters. Hopefully, this isn’t the end of this family’s story.
Rough Diamonds Season 1 is available to stream on Netflix.