Jews in Television: 2000s

From Larry David to Sarah Silverman.

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Lovable TV Jews

Not all stereotypes were necessarily disturbing ones. Sandy Cohen, from the short-lived but intensely followed Fox primetime teen soap opera The O.C., was a bleeding-heart liberal public-interest attorney with a heart of gold, taking in troubled teen Ryan Atwood and adopting him into his warm, loving family. 

And his son Seth was the inventor of Chrismukkah, the hybrid Jewish-Christian holiday celebration that made a brief splash in the world beyond the television screen. The O.C. was only intermittently Jewish, being more interested in the glamorous lives of the Orange County wealthy, but its Jewish heart was in the right place, pondering issues of class and poverty that had become invisible on American television.  Or at least it tried to do so between its regularly scheduled fistfights and steamy romantic interludes. 

The West Wing’s Jewish political operatives Toby Ziegler and Josh Lyman (Richard Schiff and Bradley Whitford) were among the ablest of the show’s fantasy-world of agile, savvy White House aides. And Ross and Monica Geller and Rachel Green of Friends (David Schwimmer, Courteney Cox, and Jennifer Aniston) were inoffensively playful Jews, like Seinfeld’s quartet stripped of their power to shock. 

Jews, Jews Everywhere

Jews were everywhere, though, and often in the most surprising guises: as a Mohawk-wearing, football-playing, cheerleader-impregnating choir singer in the Fox musical comedy series Glee; as math-loving FBI agents of CBS’ Numbers; as an Israeli Mossad operative turned special agent on CBS’ NCIS; and as the non-Jewish, pot-dealing widow of a Jew on Showtime’s Weeds (created by Jewish writer Jenji Kohan). 

Others were engaged in more typical pursuits: producing television programs on Aaron Sorkin’s short-lived NBC series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip; working as an aerospace engineer on the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory; obsessively worrying over the fate of the Jewish people on Comedy Central’s South Park

In short, they were doing anything and everything, freed of their responsibility to stick to the script. After Seinfeld, Jews were everywhere--and everyone.

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Saul Austerlitz

Saul Austerlitz is a writer and film critic in New York.