At last the prayers of mothers across the nation have been answered: The era of the Nice Jewish Boy has arrived on television. This season there are at least three men a single Jewish woman could happily bring home to meet the family: Northern Exposure’s Dr. Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow), the consummate New York doctor who is only, at the moment, geographically undesirable; Jerry Seinfeld, the high-strung but lovable comedian on Seinfeld; and Marty Gold (Richard Lewis), the insecure, sardonic magazine writer on Anything But Love.
What makes these upscale Jewish men different is that they wear their religion on their sleeves. Long gone are the days when Jews were just TV’s middle-class comic foils, like the hapless and bulbous-nosed Murray the Cop (Al Molinaro) on The Odd Couple, or the depressed cab driver Alex Rieger (Judd Hirsch) on Taxi. They wore their hearts on their sleeves, and we only guessed these guys were Jewish because they were walking ethnic stereotypes.
Joel, Jerry, and Marty are another breed. These are ethnically correct Jewish men who actually kibitz about their culture and use words like trayf (non-kosher meat) and shiksa (a non-Jewish woman). Two seasons ago, Marty took Hannah Miller (Jamie Lee Curtis) to his family’s hellish Passover seder. Jerry has had to contend with the interference of his loving-but-cloying parents, who live in Florida. And Joel had New York bagels Federal Expressed to him by his girlfriend.
When Murphy Brown’s self-important producer, Miles Silverberg, referred to his bar mitzvah as his ”rite of passage,” it signaled the arrival of the ’90s NJB. That same season, thirtysomething’s Michael Steadman fathered a son, and suddenly this nonobservant Jew with the beautiful Episcopalian wife was faced with the question: To have or not to have a bris? And now Murphy herself is pregnant by her Jewish ex-husband. And, if the baby is a boy, you can bet that show will have its own take on circumcision.
Of course, these new Jewish men are neurotic — but in these self-doubting times, neurotic is sexy. The Jewish man, once the butt of his own jokes, is now an appealing combination of intelligence, wit, and not-so-subtle sensuality. Suddenly, it’s hip to be insecure. And guess what? These self-deprecating guys have the ”shiksa goddesses” to prove it — what some might see as a sure sign of Jewish male success. Joel’s love interest is the tough but tender Midwesterner Maggie O’Connell (Janine Turner). Marty has lovingly referred to Hannah, his colleague/lover as his ”angry shiksa.” Jerry’s erstwhile lover Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), though neurotic in her own right, has an upright WASP for a father.
So where does that leave the Nice Jewish Girl? Now that thirtysomething’s been canceled, why doesn’t the terminally single Melissa Steadman move next door to Jerry? Why not have Rhoda’s sister Brenda move to Cicely, Alaska, and work as Joel’s nurse? If worse comes to worst, maybe Hannah can convert. Chances are that would make Marty’s mother happy.