October 5, 2009
‘Family Guy’ gets Jewish makeover
Lois Griffin – a Jew?
That’s the revelation from last night’s episode of “Family Guy” (titled “Family Goy”), which included Stewie in payot and a kippah reciting a “L’hadlik Ner” blessing during a Passover seder (followed by Mola Ram’s prayer from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” before he removes Meg’s heart).
This second episode of the season, written by Mark Hentemann, begins with a geektastic “Super Friends” parody opener and then meanders through some flat gags about Peter falling in love with a Kathy Ireland cutout before moving on to a mostly sharp-witted Jewish plot. As can happen in “Family Guy,” the script’s humor takes a few mean-spirited, dark turns, including one gag that only a white supremacist could love –- shooting at Jews.
The Jewish plotline begins when a breast cancer scare leads Lois (voiced by Jewish actress Alex Borstein) to discover that her mother, Barbara Pewterschmidt, is a Holocaust survivor who gave up her Judaism to help her husband get into country clubs (“It was the right thing to do, dear,” Mrs. Pewterschmidt says).
“So Grandma Hebrewberg is actually Jewish?!” Lois asks.
“Yes, when she moved to America, her family changed their name. It was originally Hebrewbergmoneygrabber,” her mother says.
“Family Goy” includes the brief return of Jewish accountant Max Weinstein, the titular character from the episode “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein,” who reassures Lois she doesn’t need to change her life. (Another returning “Weinstein” character: the congregational rabbi voiced by Ben Stein.)
Peter embraces his wife’s Jewish heritage—donning a tallit, kippah and Star of David necklace (chest hair included), and changing his name to “Chhhhhhhh.” When Lois objects, Peter complains, “Leave it to a Jew to take all the fun out of being a Jew.” His enrolling the kids in day school is good for a few laughs, along with his pushing Lois to dress frum in the bedroom to turn him on and, wanting to be humiliated, says, “Tell me I don’t earn as much as your friend’s husband.”
The episode’s conflict is introduced via the ghost of Francis Griffin, Peter’s father, who chastises him for forsaking his Catholic beliefs. Peter immediately shuns his wife (“It’s the only religion with the word ‘ew’ in it”) and crucifies her on a makeshift cross made from Stewie’s crib. The episode takes a truly tasteless turn when Peter emulates Amon Leopold Göth, the Plaszów concentration camp commandant featured in “Schindler’s List,” sitting shirtless in his bedroom window with a rifle aimed at his wife, shooting at her and the town’s other well-known Jew, Mort. After Lois apologizes for Peter, Mort responds with, “No problem, Lois. That’s just how people say hello to me.” The bit crosses the line and hits with the same thud as the protracted scene from the episode “Long John Peter,” in which Peter is offered up as the real killer of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson and O.J. is portrayed as the couple’s horrified best friend.
As Lois and Peter square off over whether the family will celebrate Passover or Easter, the resolution pulls in Jesus—a semi-regular character on the show—to reach an interfaith bridge of understanding, which seems to offer tepid support for Judeo-Christian belief and indulges mildly funny slights against Islam and faith in general.
My hope is that the series will roast the familial Jewish themes introduced in “Family Goy,” rather than continuing on the Jews-as-targets route. The show has regularly featured some inspiring Jewish gags – both in good taste and bad. And while highbrow community in-jokes would be better received by Jewish viewers, the likely reality is the Holocaust humor will continue to dominate. “Family Guy” voice actor Seth Green—also a Jew—once shared with me something Borstein told him prior to the launch of “Robot Chicken”: “The moment you put a bunch of Jewish writers in a room, you’re going to get a ton of Hitler jokes.”