I don't think people generally think about whether they identify with the people they see in their favorite tv shows because it's mostly automatic. Unless you're a minority. I see interviews and articles all the time lamenting the lack of minorities on tv and/or nominated for Oscars. But they're mostly talking about the minority you can immediately see because they somehow look different. That's how people tend to think of minorities, which isn't wrong. It just doesn't include all minorities.
Generally, main characters are usually white, they could be lower to upper middle class, and it's assume they're some kind of Christian. Even if religion isn't discussed, there is never ANOTHER religion that's discussed. There are always Christmas episodes with no mention of any other religions. As if they don't exist. Or they have that token episode where the brother or sister has some kind of encounter with a Jew. I haven't seen any where there has been that episode done with a Muslim or Buddhist or even a Scientologist. But every now and again, you catch the Shabbat episode, like the one I recently saw on The Partridge Family. Some of you are probably too young to have seen that one, but I caught it on one of those channels in the 100's of Optimum that show old stuff. Or on Fresh Off the Boat, which happens to be a minority centered show (Chinese), that I think is hysterical. They did an episode where the main character finally met another Chinese kid in his all white school but the kid was adopted by Jewish parents. He's Ch-ewish (I'm taking credit for that one- it wasn't in the show).
The fact is, not only are the main families in dramas, comedies, and dramedies whitewashed or baptized, they are just assumed to be some version of believing in Jesus. As a kid, you want to identify with someone on tv. You want there to be a character or a family like you. That almost never happened for me. Or you get a totally stereotyped version of your people, which can definitely be funny. Like Fran Fine. The Nanny. I loved The Nanny. But even that was a LONG time ago AND Fran still ended up marrying the non-Jewish guy. It took like twenty years from Fran to get The Goldbergs, which is a show set thirty years ago. While I don't watch The Goldbergs because I don't find it that funny, I guess it's nice to have it. It's humor is more about life in the 80's though than life as Jews. I do find it odd that the person they chose as the matriarch isn't even close to being Jewish in real life. It's not that I don't think a shiksa can play a Jew, but there are plenty of Jewish actors out there that can really authenticate that Jewish s-mother role.
It does beg the question though- why can't there just be a show centered around a Jewish family that's just endearing? Like The Cosby Show. Family Ties. Growing Pains. They're doing a re-boot of Full House before we get one Jewish family that isn't the tired stereotype of the intermarriage scene with the same old jokes. The only difference is that this time, in Odd Mom Out, it's the WIFE who is Jewish. Usually it's the nebbishy, neurotic husband, like Paul in Mad About You- where it was never even SAID, but just implied by Paul being Paul and his negative, nit-picky, stereotypical mother. Miles Silverberg with Corky on Murphy Brown. Harry and Charlotte on Sex and the City. I rest my case.
With Odd Mom Out, in real life, Jill Kargman is the writer. In real life, she's Jewish. In real life, her husband is Jewish. It's supposed to be semi-autobiographical. Who at the head of these networks is so afraid of having two Jewish main characters married to one another? Are they afraid it's just so off-putting that no one will watch? It took me until today, Googling, to find out that the husband and his family in OMO are definitely supposed to be WASPs. I couldn't tell. Maybe it was because I was so excited that we were seeing all Jews in a sitcom. It was hard to tell because she made her character SO Jewish that she's wearing a chai maintenance shirt in the first episode and used the word ketubah in the second. Usually in the intermarriage sitcom world, the husband is Jewish but it's kept more hush-hush.
I'm sure it could've been just as funny without the same old Jew in a WASPs nest conflict humor. If I was a WASP, I'd be annoyed that they made the husband such a ginormous pussy. I know plenty of WASP men with way more sting than this guy. And if he's such a wuss, would he have even married a woman like Jill? How would that have gone down? Then there was the episode about being buried with her husband's family and no mention of wanting to be in a Jewish cemetery. These are real things that would come up. Sure, it's a comedy and only twenty-two minutes at that, but shows like Family Ties and Growing Pains tackled serious subject matter and just infused it with humor.
If you're going to bother making it clear that the main character is Jewish at all, then at least make it relatable. Don't just throw in a Hebrew word here and there and call it a day. It's like playing into the stereotypes that gentiles have about Jews vs the real stereotypes that make us funny. The Jewish papers and online websites are kvelling over the fact that it's a Jewish main character and I'm over here why the Jewish thing was included at all. If it was meant to just be a slice of her book, the "regular" mom vs the high society moms, then there was no need for the Jewish angle.
Update: I wrote Jill and asked her. She answered. She said that making the von Webers not Jewish just added to her "odd mom out-ness". Everyone at the network supports all her Jewy insertions. That if they get picked up for a second season, they'll delve more into her family. I get all that too, but I still would've preferred they were all Jewish and got their humor from another area. Even just the difference in levels of Jewishness could be funny. Or like I originally thought- his family as Jews who act like wannabe WASPs. Reform vs Conservative, kosher vs not, etc. My husband and I are both Jewish but come from totally different kinds of households. There is definite humor in those differences. I thank her for answering though, and QUICKLY, so I give her props for that. She's not too cool to answer regular people's questions. I'll keep watching, waiting for the Jews to come out in full force.
Even in the supporting cast, there have been other shows which featured Jewish characters and/or families. But it's the incorrect details that always have me burning. I just don't get it. I see Jewish writers in the credits, yet, there is always something that doesn't make any sense. And it gets me incensed.
Being Erica- Canadian show. I have Canadian friends that say there are a decent amount of Jews in Toronto, where Being Erica took place. The father's character was a rabbi, which is clearly a pretty serious Jew, even if his character hadn't been all that serious about it in his earlier life. The sister couldn't look less Jewish, she marries a guy who is named Josh, but his last name was McIntosh. No mention that she married a non-Jew or that it caused any issue as it WOULD if her father was a rabbi. It's not like Josh was a menschy character. He was a total dick and no one liked him. So it wasn't a case of him being a great guy that just happens not to be Jewish. And none of the cast playing Jewish characters were Jewish. It's like saying, well, they're Jewish characters, but it's not TOO Jewish because there are actually no Jews involved in the execution of the story.
We don't just want token Jewish characters, we want the SITUATIONS they're in to relate as well! We want to see the hell that sister would've been put through, in dramatic fashion, for choosing to intermarry. Or at least a conversation about it! Otherwise, why even bother throwing in the Jewish thing? For the writers to have diversity cred?
Here is just a few more examples of Jewish WTF on TV:
Friends- There was a blackout one night in the first season. Joey came running in with a candelabra. Chandler said it was his old roommate Kip's. Kip was Jewish. What Jew names a kid Kip?? Kip is the name of a blond, blue-eyed kid from Connecticut that wears pants embroidered with sailboats on it and beige boat shoes. And if I remember correctly it wasn't even a menorah. I'm pretty sure it was a seven light candelabra. How about that Courteney Cox clearly isn't Jewish and David Schwimmer clearly is, and Ross being Jewish was addressed with Ben and the Hanukkah Armadillo. But no mention of religion when Ross was marrying Emily or Monica marrying Chandler? There definitely could've been comedy in either of those scenarios. Especially with those parents!
How about Rachel- she was supposed to be a Jewish American Princess from Long Island. She was introduced as a runaway bride from Dr Barry Farber, a nebbishy dentist, presumably Jewish. Then the powers that be gave her Christina Applegate and Reese Witherspoon as her supposedly equally JAP-py sisters??? Come. On. Granted, Jennifer Aniston isn't Jewish, but she could definitely pass as one of the tribe. Christina and Reese aren't fooling anyone. Not that it mattered, because it NEVER came up. Never mind that Mr. & Mrs. Gellar would've been plotzing all over Ross and Rachel ending up together.
Girlfriends Guide to Divorce- Abby made a huge deal about her husband being only "half Jewish". He flipped out, giving his background as to how he's "full Jewish", yet HER name is Abby McCarthy! With NO explanation! I waited the whole season to hear what the hell was up with that and NOTHING. It didn't make any sense! And they gave her a brother who might as well have the word gentile tattooed on his forehead. There isn't a way you could convince me he's even half! Lisa Edelstein, at least as Abby, is SO Jewish- looking, mannerisms, etc. There is no way that would be her brother! It's the new Ross and Monica, just reversed.
I'm not even religious. This annoyance is more about being culturally relatable and correct. I don't know if it's that people can't get a grip or an agreement about Jewish being both a religion and a nationality/ethnicity, so they don't know how to deal with that in comedy? I also find it kind of offensive that it seems to be about this idea that it would be so unappealing to have a whole family be just a complete, nice family, who also happens to be Jewish. In this decade. Or the implication that there are no good writers out there who can write comedy for a Jewish family that takes place in the present time.
Stereotypes can be funny. And relatable. People totally related to the Barones on Everyone Loves Raymond. It was mainly about family, but also stereotypical about Italian mothers. There have always been shows centering around Italian families and Irish families where they used their ethnicity to drive story or get laughs. But the same old scenarios, with the same kinds of families, over and over are not funny or relatable.
There is plenty of Jewish/Other intermarriage and that in itself is relatable. Everyone is doing it. However, I don't believe that it's always been shown that way on tv, done in the name of progressiveness. I think it's more in the name of fear and how that translates into ratings. The real progression would be in having religion and culture not be the main conflict between the one spouse and the other spouse and their family, who are the main characters. Or if it is, how about two sides of the same coin? Fresh off the Boat is about a whole Chinese family, not a Chinese woman married to an American man. The husband is Chinese trying to be more American, and his wife is Chinese, afraid to embrace being American-ized. THAT conflict is funny. Of course, that show is set in the 90's, not today, so we still have a ways to go. But the creator of that show is still a genius. It is also semi-autobiographical and he definitely sacrifices political correctness for laughs.
I just wish someone would be brave enough to color outside the lines with us. To not have the fear of needing to throw in enough gentiles in the main character mix to make it palatable to the masses. I have a feeling that if something is written well enough, and really funny, people would watch and enjoy.
***Hmmm, maybe the networks are right in their fear. I just Googled "Jews on TV" and hit "images". I was looking for a photo to put with this entry. Ooof. I was not prepared for all the anti-Semitic stuff that came back at me in that search....