Last night, both of HBO’s buzziest shows, The Sopranos and Entourage, included interfaith relationships as part of their storylines. And both were chock full of stereotypes.
One of the plotlines on last night’s ep of The Sopranos concerns Hesch (Jerry Adler), a retired Jewish record producer who has loaned money to Tony Soprano and his late father for decades. In the new episode, Tony forgets that he owes Hesch $200,000 for gambling losses; when Hesch demurely asks for the money, Tony starts resenting one of his oldest friends, calling him “Shylock” and making cracks about his Jewish obsession with money–as opposed to Tony himself, who instead of politely asking for repayment of loans, beats you up and steals your stuff to remind you that you’re in arrears.
For the first time in the show’s storied run, we get a glimpse into Hesch’s personal life. His son, Eli, is apparently a religious Jew, and Hesch’s girlfriend is a much younger black woman. To its credit, the show treats Hesch and his girlfriend’s relationship matter-of-factly. No one even notes the racial or age difference between the two. And as much as Tony unfairly stereotypes Hesch, Hesch does the same with Tony–he says that most of the time, Italians are alright, but when you get on their bad side, they’re like animals.
Last night’s episode of Entourage explored an interfaith relationship more extensively, albeit in a more stereotypical way. Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), the Jewish Hollywood super-agent who is one of the stars of the show, gets excited about a visit from an old college friend played by Artie Lang, one of Howard Stern’s sidekicks. In college, Gold was Lang’s elder frat brother, and was accustomed to being the successful suave alpha-male to Lang’s overweight, undersexed clown. But when Lang visits Gold for the first time in 10 years, he’s still overweight, but he’s now worth $65 million and has a gorgeous blonde non-Jewish fiance on his arm–and she’s converting.
The storyline blatantly exploits familiar stereotypes about relationships between unattractive, rich Jews and beautiful non-Jewish women. And I have to somewhat sheepishly admit, these storylines amuse me everytime. Lang corrects his fiance when she pronounces Hanukkah without the gutteral H. She also eagerly explains to Ari and his wife–who are both proudly Jewish and totally secular–that glaat kosher means “totally clean.”
The episode also contrasts the explosive, passionate and constantly fighting Jewish Golds with the polite, lovey-dovey, overly sensitive Lang and his fiance. In contrast to the Golds, who fight and make love with equal intensity, Lang’s relationship with his fiance is nice but sterile. While Gold’s wife appreciates Lang’s overly familiar references to her beauty, Lang’s fiance is offended when Ari makes a crack about her beautiful figure.
Neither show says anything insightful about interfaith relationships, but it’s interesting to see the way one show treats the relationship as a scarcely notable fact of life while the other treats it as a source of humor.
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