(This post first appeared in Jewish Business News.)
The hit 90s sitcom “Friends” aired one of the biggest insults to the Jewish religion to ever appear on an American television show. And this was on an episode which purported to be about the importance of the Chanukah holiday.
In its ten years on television, the producers of “Friends” made no effort whatsoever to acknowledge the Jewish identities of half the show’s main characters, Ross, Rachel and Monica. In all of the flashbacks of their childhoods there was never any reference to a Bat or Bar Mitzvah. Not once did they ever make mention of celebrating Rosh Hashanah or of having a Passover Seder.
Friends did not try to offer its viewers the slightest hint that these three were Jews except for their last names, Geller and Green. And we never even saw any Jewish clichés like we got from time to time on Seinfeld.
The one and only exception came in the sitcom’s seventh season. After 150 episodes had already aired, on December 10, 2000, viewers around the world were treated to an episode titled, “The One with the Holiday Armadillo.” In it Ross Geller, played by Jewish actor David Schwimmer, suddenly gets anxious about his son’s knowledge of his Jewish roots at Chanukah time. The boy, Ben, is already 6 years old at the time. No explanation is given for Ross’ abrupt concern for the holiday.
So what happens? Ross is too late to find a costume to wear that would in some way be fitting for Chanukah. All he can find is an armadillo suit. So of course he wears it to entertain his son.
Someone thought that seeing David Schwimmer in the ridiculous costume would be so hilarious that it would make the episode. It did not. It instead was an insult to Jews everywhere.
Ross explains the costume to Ben saying that he is Santa’s Tex-Mex friend: the Holiday Armadillo. Why would he have a helper of Santa’s teach his son about Chanukah?
The show ends with a close up of the lit menorah and of course the playing of the song “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof. That brought a tear to no one’s eyes.
The people in Hollywood who make TV shows do not seem to like religion very much. The Jews among them also seem to be more embarrassed than proud of their own religion. This is apparent from the way in which Jews and Jewish holidays are portrayed. While there are many examples of this, “The One with the Holiday Armadillo” episode of Friends is clearly the worst offender.
Oh why, oh why, can’t we be treated to an honest and realistic portrayal of Jewish traditions in movies and on television shows? Let’s see, in addition to this there was the Yom Kipur episode on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and movies like “The Hebrew Hammer” and “Eight Crazy Nights.”
If such absurd depictions of Muslims or Hindus practicing their religions and celebrating their holidays were ever to appear on television, the same people who make the shows like “Friends” would kick and scream about its being racist and offensive. Oh well.