While Dick Wolf’s “Law & Order” universe has had its share of legendary Yids from Jerry Orbach’s Lenny Briscoe to Steven Hill’s Adam Schiff (the fictional DA, not the the expected chairman of the House Intelligence Committee), “Law & Order: SVU,” the only show left running, has been noticeably lacking in the Jew department since the departure of Richard Belzer’s John Munch.
But every once in a while, New York’s natural yiddishkeit can’t help but seep into “Law & Order: SVU.” The November 29 episode “Alta Kockers” marked one such instance as legendary kvetchers Wallace Shawn and Judd Hirsch guest starred as two bickering brothers.
How the episode, which begins at the book reading of an underage sex worker’s memoir, finds its way to the hoarder’s nest of Shawn and Hirsch’s Edelman brothers is trademark “SVU” convolution. The Edelmans live like the legendary Collyer brothers of yore, holed up in a stately, impossibly cluttered home in Washington Heights that they claim not to have left since the Ford administration. After an IP address leads the Special Victims Unit to their home, they’re forced to leave for the police station as suspects in the murder of a young man dressed as a woman (the show makes a curious effort to establish he isn’t trans). Unsurprisingly the brother’s vocabulary needs updating.
“Aw feh!” Hirsch’s Joe Edelman says to Lieutenant Benson and Detective Amanda Rollins in an interrogation scene “You are bupkis next to Nixon’s Nazis.” Shawn’s Ben Edelman needs to be admonished by Ice-T’s Detective Tutuola not to use the word fegulah. Mariska Hargitay’s Olivia Benson demonstrates a surprising knowledge of Yiddish slurs, nearly jumping out of her skin after Joe refers to Ice-T as well, the Yiddish word for black.
Ben is crestfallen to learn that the Carnegie Deli went under and Joe accuses Ben of cheating a kid named Izzie Berkowitz out of money in a game of gin rummy played at Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club.
This thing couldn’t get much more Jewish, up to and including a, let’s say complicated, relationship between the brothers and their mother. Add in a subplot loosely based on the authorship controversy surrounding Jewish author Laura Albert (aka JT LeRoy) and a scene stealing monologue by Shawn and we’re plotzing. Though we do wonder if Detective Carisi would really be well-read enough to say, as he does, “Norman Mailer would have killed Gore Vidal on principle.”
Thanks to screenwriter Michael S. Chernuchin we get a glimpse of what the “Grumpy Old Men” reboot might be like with Shawn and Hirsch. If that gets green lit off of this episode’s reception we’ll call it a Hanukkah miracle.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com.