'Orange is the New Black' Doesn't Have a 'Jewish Problem'
The Netflix original show Orange is the New Black is the show that everyone is talking about, and with good reason. It's a runaway smash with one of the most fascinating, talented, and diverse ensembles in recent memory. It's a show that you can — and will — watch compulsively to see what happens to Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a WASP-y New Yorker serving time in prison, and her fellow inmates.
Even more compelling than the plethora of captivating story lines is that this is a show that features characters from a variety of sexual orientation, racial, and religious backgrounds. It's a progressive series and a complete game-changer, not to mention one of the most well-acted and written new shows.
Of course, when a show receives nearly universal praise, there's bound to be nitpickers. Last week The Daily Beast asked if Jenji Kohan's Orange is the New Black has "a Jewish problem", criticizing the series (based off of Piper Kerman's book of the same name, which chronicled her real-life account of her own time in prison) for making Jason Biggs' character Larry and his family for being stereotypes.
Now, it's fair enough to argue that Larry is the Sweet, Nebbishy Jewish Guy and his liberal, financially well-off parents, a Helicopter Mother Who Asks You If You're Hungry All The Time and a Stoic Well-Connected Lawyer Father, are stereotypes. But are they dangerous stereotypes? Hardly.
Are they unlikable? The Daily Beast argues that Larry is "the stereotype of the modern American Jew, who is understood as a powerful and intimidating bully. He’s someone you don’t want to cross. He’s got the president’s ear, and he’s not afraid to speak loudly." A fair enough argument (if not one that's a bit of a stretch, considering this was just a family member trying to find out about their loved one, and most people would not be afraid to speak loudly in that situation) this is nothing compared to human garbage like corrupt prison guard Pornstache. The Jewish characters, however stereotypical they may be, are not the bad guys here. Larry is just a nice guy, his religion is just a part of who he is, but it doesn't define him or how we feel about him (or his family, who are mostly very minor characters) as a person.
Moreover, you could just as easily argue that all of these characters are stereotypes, or at least exaggerated versions of different types of people. The Daily Beast could have just as easily asked if Orange is the New Black has an LGBT problem or a African-American problem (they like to do their hair!) or a Hispanic problem (they like their food spicy!) or, more noticeably, a Christianity problem. After all, Taryn Manning's unhinged prison preacher Pennsatucky is likely doing the religion no favors.
These characters aren't perfect people, but its not their various backgrounds that make them that way. Plenty of them certainly fall into certain stereotypes (even Piper's wide-eyed, uptight WASP is like a White People Problems joke come to life) but it's not what defines them. Which, at its core, is what Orange is the New Black is really about: not judging others by first impressions or their religion, race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation.