An American Pickle Is a Two-Man Show, and Both Men Are Seth Rogen


Seth Rogen as Herschel Greenbaum in An American Pickle

Seth Rogen as Herschel Greenbaum in An American Pickle
Photo: HBO Max

One of the refrains of the American immigrant experience, repeated often enough that the words have acquired the flavorless toughness of over-chewed gum, is that our forebears came to this country in order to give their children a better life. Behind them was war, persecution, famine, or poverty, but also home, while in front of them was a theoretical promised land that in practice would turn out to have a tendency to renege. In exchange for struggle and sacrifice, their descendants could have opportunities they didn’t. They could become doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs — or, as Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen), who’s voyaged from a fictionally grim part of Eastern Europe to New York with his pregnant bride, Sarah (Sarah Snook), more bluntly puts it, their family will be “powerful, successful, the strongest in the land.”

Of course, their offspring are under no obligation to comply. One of the qualified liberties they enjoy is the freedom to be unexceptional — to, say, make a failed go at becoming a Twitch celebrity, or drift into vague corporate middle management, or fiddle indecisively for years on an app they insist on naming “Boop Bop.” That’s what Brooklynite Ben Greenbaum (also played by Rogen) has been toiling at when he finds himself miraculously united with his great-grandfather, courtesy of the powers of brine and magical realism (“The scientist explains, his logic is good, it satisfied everyone,” Herschel says in voice-over, while conveniently speaking over the details). In 1920, Herschel fell into a tub in a pickle factory, emerging perfectly preserved a century later. Ben, his only living relative, takes Herschel in and introduces him to modern wonders like owning as many as seven pairs of shoes. Still, Herschel can’t help but find the reality of Ben’s untethered, solitary life disappointing.


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