It’s no surprise that I like Television. In fact, I may like it too much. I watch way too much TV, either from our DVR with my wife or I watch a lot on my computer going to and from work on the train. I noticed a long time ago, as did many others, that the depiction of Jews in Television is not exactly what we are like in the real world. There have been a number of books written on this subject and I do not want to get into a scholarly discussion.
I have actually noticed a decline in the number of Jewish characters on TV these days. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is good because it give us a chance to stop seeing the false depiction of the Jew on Television. It is a bad thing, because it is important for our younger coreligionists to see positive role models on tv who are Jewish.
Of all of the shows I watch regularly (and irregularly) I can come up with six shows that depict Jews, and in each case it is different from the rest. One is a situation comedy (which in the past most Jewish characters were to be found) and the rest dramas.
The comedy is called “The Big Bang Theory“. I happen to think this is one of the funniest shows on television right now and highly recommend it to anyone (especially since there are very few good comedies out there today). The story revolves around two roommates who are both Physicists at a university. One is a child prodigy who has not understanding of the world and the other is a guy who had to come by his accomplishments by really working at it. A pretty girl moves in across the hall and that is where the situation comes from. Surprisingly it is neither of the main characters who are Jewish, but one of their friends. The character of Howard Wolowitz (play beautifully by Simon Helberg who is Jewish) is shown as a 20 something engineer who still lives at home with his mother and cannot get a date. How stereotypical! Truth be told, I have yet to meet anyone like this in real life, and I would imagine that there were more non-Jewish men in their 20s living at home with their mothers than there are Jewish men.
First two drama with Characters who look and sound Jewish but we have not been told if they are or not. In “House” we have Doctor Taub, played by Peter Jacobson (Jewish) who is on Dr. House’s team. As viewers we are pretty sure he is Jewish but there is no proof of this. This is a common thing I have found. We have Jewish Characters and they don’t want to deal with this. I am not sure why they make the character Jewish, but sometimes when a character is around for a while they get to dealing with this. The other one, in the show “Life” (which was created by someone in the grade above me when I was at Solomon Schechter) is the character of Ted Early played by Adam Arkin (Jewish). We think he might be Jewish only because Adam Arkin is Jewish, but you never know.
The next show is a show I fell in love with after just one episode. It is called “Being Erica” and unfortunately you cannot see it on American TV. It is a Canadian show (and by the way they are producing some very good television) and you can download or watch it on the net. The main character, Erica Strange, has spent her life making many mistakes and has many regrets. An odd therapist allows her to go back in time to correct these mistakes and there of course is a lesson at the end of the show. Now I had no clue during the first episode that Erica was Jewish until late in the show, her parents show up at her apartment. Her dad has a tee shirt that says I’m with Moses and he is wearing a small suede kippah on his head. WOW. A Jewish character who perhaps is going to be shown as really Jewish. I am waiting to see. BTW, there was a show called “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill” starring Sharon Gless in 1992. Ron Rifkin played her boss and the character was a Shomer Shabbat Jew and on one episode Rosie goes to his home for Shabbat Dinner.
Which brings me to “Brothers and Sisters” starring Sally Field. The show is about the Walker family, a wealthy family where the mom is Jewish and the father (who dies in the first episode) is not. The entire family here is technically Jewish. The only time is ever came into play was one episode where they did the famous Hanukkah Christmas dilemma. I hate that! The worst offending show that ever did this was the otherwise good “Thirtysomething“.
Finally the one shining light on TV today and it took five seasons to get there. Numb3rs is a show about an FBI agent and his Math genius brother who helps him solve crimes, stars not one, not two, but three Jewish actors in the top three roles. Rob Morrow (who also played a great Jewish character in “Northern Exposure“) stars as the FBI agent Don Epps, David Krumholtz as his brother and Judd Hirsh as their father. They did not cover up from the start that they were Jewish, but it was obvious that they had no connection to their religion. In the last few episodes, Don (Rob Morrow) has decided to learn more about his Jewishness by meeting regularly with a Rabbi and going to Synagogue. We’ll see where that goes.
OK, for a guy who promised not to write a dissertation, I sure did a bad job. Sorry for the length, but it has been on my mind.