Seinfeld and Company

On Seinfeld and other 1990s TV shows, Jewishness became part of the American pop-culture landscape.

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Interfaith TV Couples

Interfaith couples became commonplace in '90s sitcoms. In The Nanny, an outspoken, self-spoofing Jewish nanny (played by Jewish actress Fran Drescher) eventually married her proper English employer. Dharma and Greg explored the comedic contrasts between a new-age Jewish hippie and her button-down WASP businessman husband. Mad About You delved into the lives of Jewish filmmaker Paul Buchman (Paul Reiser) and his beautiful non-Jewish wife Jamie (Helen Hunt).

In stark contrast, a generation earlier, the 1972 series Bridget Loves Bernie (about the relationship between a Jewish man and his Irish Catholic wife) had to be cancelled because of protests from both the Jewish and Catholic communities.

Jewish, Female & Proud

Grace: "Well, what makes you think that you have the better candidate?"
Will: "Grace, he's gay."
Grace: "Well, mine's a woman and Jewish. That makes two victims to your one."

--Will (Eric McCormack) and Grace (Debra Messing) arguing about political candidates, Will and Grace

Will and Grace, a comedy series featuring a gay male lead, broke new ground when it premiered on network TV in fall 1998. Created by David Kohan and Max Mutchnick (both Jewish), the show explores the platonic relationship between Will Truman (Eric McCormack), a gay WASP lawyer, and Grace Adler (Debra Messing), a heterosexual Jewish interior designer.

In addition to its honest portrayal of homosexuals, the series is trailblazing in its depiction of a beautiful, proudly Jewish female lead who is refreshingly free of negative stereotyping.

In the "Cheaters" episode, for example, Grace discovers that Will's married father George (Sydney Pollack) has taken a mistress, Tina (Lesley Ann Warren). Grace informs a disbelieving Will, who then invites his father and Tina to dinner. Frustrated by the triviality of the conversation, Grace takes Will aside and explains that, in her Jewish family, a matter of such gravity would have been put on the table before the appetizer. Will counters by saying that, in his family, that's not the way things happen. Finally, as a result of Grace's prodding, Will and his father engage in a long-overdue heart-to-heart.

The show's portrayal of a Jewish woman as emotionally forthright and honest contrasts sharply with Woody Allen's depiction of Alvy Singer's loud and outlandish Jewish family in Annie Hall.

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Arie Kaplan

Arie Kaplan is the author of the critically-acclaimed nonfiction book From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books (JPS). He's also a comic book writer and a screenwriter. Recently, Arie wrote the story and dialogue for the upcoming House M.D. videogame. Please check out his website, www.ariekaplan.com.