Jews in Television

Looking at Judaism on the small screen.

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Much Ado about Nothing

In the 1980s, Jewish characters were few and far between, and the decade did not yield very many memorable television shows with Jewish themes. All that changed in the 1990s, thanks to the observational comedy of Jerry Seinfeld. Seinfeld revolutionized the way Jews were portrayed on television, unabashedly focusing entire episodes on Jewish themes, from attending a bris, to dealing with crazy Jewish parents.

A number of other shows followed Seinfeld's lead, featuring openly Jewish characters and themes, and some episodes dealt with controversial Jewish subjects. Whether it was the stereotypical portrayal of the materialistic Jewish Long Island girl in The Nanny, intermarriage on Dharma & Greg, or negative stereotypes about Jewish men on Friends, the portrayal of Jews on television did not sit well with everyone in the Jewish community.

If the 1990s saw an upsurge of Jewish characters on television, the 2000s realized the normalization of Judaism on television. More and more shows featured Jewish characters, but shows made less of a big deal about their Judaism. Characters like Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Sarah Silverman on The Sarah Silverman Program, and Ari Gold on Entourage took the reigns from Seinfeld's Jerry, Elaine, and George.

As Jewish characters and themes proliferated, Jewishness on television has become less of a novelty. This trend is most apparent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the satirical nightly news show where Stewart rants about the day's events. Stewart is an unashamed secular Jew, and on numerous occasions during the week he makes references to Judaism or Yiddishisms, bringing formerly Jewish inside jokes into mainstream culture.

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