By Daniel Chavkin
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
While many television shows portray religion, few correctly portray Judaism from the Jewish perspective. However, the recent return of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” brings back one show to which Jews in America can relate.
HBO first began broadcasting “Curb” in 2000, and the show ran until 2011, totaling eight seasons before its popularity forced a ninth season this year. Since it’s return, “Curb” has picked up where it left off as one of HBO’s most popular shows.
Larry David, a graduate of this university who grew up in a Jewish family in New York, successfully wrote about life as a Jew in America in a way that related to Jews while still appealing to non-Jews.
The show’s success is further proof of David’s genius, with the show’s premiere coming just over two years after the finale of Seinfeld, David’s other popular show. David stars in the show as himself coming off Seinfeld’s success, and features Cheryl Hines as David’s non-Jewish wife, showing perspectives of Judaism from both sides.
While “Curb” featured signature Jewish topics like Passover, the show went beyond just what the casual viewer knew about Judaism. How many shows would be willing to devote an episode to Rosh Hashanah services, as “Curb” did in the episode “The Larry David Sandwich?” The show is able to take some of the more mundane Jewish traditions and turn them into an entertainment product for more than just Jews.
The show’s magic goes beyond the lesser-known Jewish practices as well. David and company have taken some of the more contentious and sensitive Jewish topics and turned them around into hilarious enjoyment that you wouldn’t think would be possible.
None of this is more true than in “Palestinian Chicken,” an episode that tackles the issues of the Middle East in one of the most popular episodes of the show’s tenure. The episode is focused around a Palestinian chicken restaurant that David’s character frequents despite its hostility towards Jewish people. Is there another show that would even attempt to make the Palestinian-Israeli conflict funny, let alone lead to one of the most iconic scenes in the show’s history?
The show’s most impressive feat, though, might have been its portrayal of the casual, Jewish American. David plays a character who identifies as Jewish yet isn’t that religious, a life that many Jews across the country live every day. When the entertainment industry portrays Judaism in its work, it doesn’t usually focus on the everyday lives of Jews.
Instead, it tries to make a character stand out with his or her religion. David’s character in “Curb” uses Judaism as part of his profile but doesn’t define himself by his religion. This is what makes him one of the most relatable characters for many Jewish Americans.
Finally, “Curb” successfully depicts seeing other parts of the world through Jewish eyes. Most shows assume the viewer knows of Christian practices, as most characters in television are accepted to be Christian without much hesitation.
Yet “Curb” is able to show the viewer what it’s like seeing Christianity from an outsider’s perspective. Episodes like “The Baptism,” which features David’s lack of knowledge of the basic Christian tradition by his assumption that the person getting baptized is drowning, can remind us that just because we understand our religion doesn’t mean everyone does.
While many shows default to Christianity as their religion, only using the basics of Judaism as an episode plot here and there, “Curb” has succeeded by breaking that norm. David’s ability to take something from everyday life and transform it into entertainment has given Jews something unique to them: a show about life as a Jew that isn’t necessarily about Jewish life.
Daniel is a senior multiplatform journalism major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.