There’s a time in every American animated comedy series, it seems, when everything turns Jewish. Whether that’s Krusty the Clown (aka Herschel Shmoikel Pinchas Yerucham Krustofski) finding his Jewish roots in “The Simpsons,” Kyle heading off to Mel Gibson to demand his money back in “South Park,” or the recent “Family Guy” (in the gently titled episode, “Family Goy”) in which matriarch Lois found out that her mother was a Holocaust survivor and Jewish.
It would be an ill-advised tempting of fate to say that the brief descent into Lois’s yiddishkeit marks the terminal decline of Seth McFarlane’s creativity. After all, neither “The Simpsons” nor “South Park” jumped the shark with their Jewish plotlines. And McFarlane’s review of Wile E. Coyote’s existential angst upon finally catching the Roadrunner provided some of the best minutes of this year’s television animation.
Although “Family Guy” will continue to pull in viewing figures, the litany of tired Jewish stereotypes trotted out for laughs was hardly an inspiration. Perhaps the idea was that, because the audience is so young, the writers would get first-time sniggers from obnoxious Jewish stereotypes, and should just try to check off as many as possible. So we saw: silly names (Hebrewberg Moneygrabber or dad Peter’s Hebrew name “Ch-ch-ch”), short hairy-chested men, libidinous boys, plain haredi dresses, sports underachievements, Holocaust obsession, greedy landlords, obsession with money and the revelation that Jesus was a Jew.
It was dumb, as usual, not as funny as usual, but had good lines — as always. One of the best lines was a throwaway when Jesus says that people shouldn’t worry about religion, they should just treat others how they’d like to be treated. “Oh,” says Peter “an eye for an eye” before moving rapidly onto something else. A great line, but perhaps a little close to the truth that the show’s audience, if not the writers, can’t tell the difference between scripture and Hollywood, stereotypes and fact, or lex talionis and loving your neighbor.
This story "‘Family Guy’ Jumps the Jew" was written by Dan Friedman.
Dan Friedman is the director of content and communications at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Formerly the executive editor and whisky correspondent of the Forward, he is the author of an illuminating (and excellent value) book about Tears for Fears, the 80s emo rock band.