Something Ain't Kosher Here: The Rise of the 'Jewish' Sitcom

Overview

From 1989 through 2002 there was an unprecedented surge in American sitcoms featuring explicitly Jewish lead characters, thirty-two compared to seven in the previous forty years.  Several of these—Mad About You, The Nanny, and Friends—were among the most popular and influential of all shows over this period; one program—Seinfeld—has been singled out as the “defining” series of the nineties.  In addition, scriptwriters have increasingly created “Jewish” characters, although they may not be perceived to ...

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New Brunswick, NJ 2003 Hard cover New. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 240 p.

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Overview

From 1989 through 2002 there was an unprecedented surge in American sitcoms featuring explicitly Jewish lead characters, thirty-two compared to seven in the previous forty years.  Several of these—Mad About You, The Nanny, and Friends—were among the most popular and influential of all shows over this period; one program—Seinfeld—has been singled out as the “defining” series of the nineties.  In addition, scriptwriters have increasingly created “Jewish” characters, although they may not be perceived to be by the show’s audience, Rachel Green on Friends being only one example.

In Something Ain’t Kosher Here, Vincent Brook asks two key questions: Why has this trend appeared at this particular historical moment and what is the significance of this phenomenon for Jews and non-Jews alike?  He takes readers through three key phases of the Jewish sitcom trend: The early years of television before and after the first Jewish sitcom, The Goldbergs’, appeared; the second phase in which America found itself “Under the Sign of Seinfeld”; and the current era of what Brook calls “Post- Jewishness.”

Interviews with key writers, producers, and “showrunners” such as David Kohan, (Will and Grace), Marta Kauffman (Friends and Dream On), Bill Prady (Dharma and Greg), Peter Mehlman and Carol Leifer (Seinfeld), and close readings of individual episodes and series provoke the inescapable conclusion that we have entered uncharted “post-Jewish” territory.  Brook reveals that the acceptance of Jews in mainstream white America at the very time when identity politics have put a premium on celebrating difference reinforces and threatens the historically unique insider/outsider status of Jews in American society. This paradox upsets a delicate balance that has been a defining component of American Jewish identity.

The rise of the Jewish sitcom represents a broader struggle in which American Jews and the TV industry, if not American society as a whole, are increasingly operating at cross-purposes—  torn between the desire to celebrate unique ethnic identities, yet to assimilate: to assert independence, yet also to build a consensus to appeal to the widest possible audience.   No reader of this book will ever be able to watch these television programs in quite the same way again.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
From the late 1980s through the early 2000s, American TV networks and syndicated programming saw a significant increase in shows featuring Jewish characters. Seinfeld, thirtysomething, and Mad About You were popular examples of this movement, and these two critical books concentrate on and attempt to explain in different ways the impetus behind this programming trend. Brook's Something Ain't Kosher Here chronicles Jewish situation comedies from 1948 through 2002 and begins to explain the reasons behind their rise, drawing on interviews with important writers and producers. The author, an adjunct professor of film and television at California State University, Los Angeles, does a good job of examining in detail particular series, including The Goldbergs, Rhoda, and The Nanny. He also looks at the three phases that Jewish TV sitcoms have experienced from 1989 to 2002. Zurawik's The Jews of Prime Time goes beyond comedies to cover dramas, casting a critical eye on individual series to discern how they have handled certain themes. Intermarriage, stereotyping, and the exploration of Jewish identity are just some of those topics. Each of the books is sporadically illustrated, and Brook's volume contains a nice bibliography. These two books revisit some themes previously explored in Jonathan and Judith Pearl's The Chosen Image: Television's Portrayal of Jewish Themes and Characters. Both are of primarily academic appeal and are integral choices for academic communications and broadcasting collections.-David M. Lisa, West Long Branch P.L., NJ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813532103
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2003
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
1 Introduction 1
2 The Americanization of Molly 21
3 The Vanishing American Jew? Ethno-Racial Projects in the Post-Goldbergs Era 43
4 The More Things Change ...: The First Phase of the Jewish Sitcom Trend 66
5 Trans-formations of Ethnic Space from The Goldbergs to Seinfeld 98
6 Under the Sign of Seinfeld: The Second Phase of the Jewish Sitcom Trend 118
7 Un-"Dresch"-ing the Jewish Princess 129
8 Post-Jewishness? The Third Phase of the Jewish Sitcom Trend 148
9 Conclusion? 169
Notes 181
Bibliography 207
Index 213
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