Jewish Journal

An Unexpected Dose of Television Judaism

by Abe Fried-Tanzer

February 4, 2013 | 11:31 am

A funny thing happened this past Wednesday night. I was watching Suburgatory, a show where you’d least expect to encounter any mention of Judaism. The send-up of suburbia features the most plastic characters you’d ever hope to meet. The fictional town of Chatswin is every native New Yorker’s nightmare, the basis for the ABC comedy, which started when single father George (Jeremy Sisto) whisked his daughter Tessa (Jane Levy) away from the big city to her own personal hell. Now that George has finally found romance with Dallas (Cheryl Hines), the show caught a rare glimpse of Judaism when another man tried to steal her away.

In a place like Chatswin, culture is dominated by fashion and material things. Religion is rarely mentioned, especially since this show often gives in to its wilder temptations, featuring wholly over-the-top storylines, like jock Ryan’s (Parker Young) reaction to the news that he was adopted, prompting him to refer to himself under a new name, Eugene Goldfarb. The irreverent comedy has actually already tapped into Judaism once before, in an episode earlier this season, “Foam Finger.” Depressed because she was not included in her father’s second wedding, the airheaded Dalia (Carly Chaikin) worked briefly with a Jewish magician named Evan, assisting him on magic tricks involving kugel. When she called him a mensch and alluded to their possible future together, he immediately said that it would never work because she’s a shiksa. At the end of the episode, Dalia snuck out to her garage, opened up a Torah, and began chanting from it.

This latest brush with Judaism is just as random and unexplained. When Dallas’ dog Yakult begins acting strangely, Dallas is convinced that Wilmer Valderrama’s eccentric Guatemalan guru Yoni is the only one who can help get the dog back to a good place. Yoni’s religion is never explicitly referenced, though his emphasis on the pronunciation of his name – George calls him “Ya-ni” – suggests Hebrew heritage. More still, as George struggles to keep Dallas from falling for Yoni’s attempts to push him out, he bonds with Dallas’ daughter, Dalia, who, for once, offers a look into what might be going on in her head. We meet them mid-conversation, as Dalia explains that she is having trouble grasping, in her own words, “Why a loving God would ask Abraham or whatever to sacrifice his like precious son.” She laments the fact that, were she to convert, she “totally got jerked on this whole Bat Mitzvah thing” and ends her speech with “In closing, kugel!”

Dalia’s sudden interest in being Jewish is a peculiar phenomenon, and, unlike some fuller television forays into Judaism, this trip feels extremely unfulfilling. Cheryl Hines had an opportunity to encounter religious Judaism in the hilarious “The Ski Lift” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, when she mistakenly prepared a plateful of bacon for her Orthodox hosts. Inserting Dalia’s meditation on Abraham and Isaac and a shot of her reading from the Torah adds little to both the show and the cinematic portrayal of Judaism. Whereas other series like Weeds and The West Wing have dealt excellently with the Judaism of their characters, this particular shout-out feels inappropriate, lacking, and, most of all, unnecessary.

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Abe Fried-Tanzer is a recent import from the East Coast to Los Angeles, and he brings with him his enthusiasm for movies and television. When he’s not watching every...

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