Matthue Roth worked on the set of the new CBS drama The Good Wife as an extra, and blogged about it Friday and Tuesday. The episode, “Unorthodox,” is about the Hasidic Jewish community in Chicago. It aired yesterday.
If you didn’t know, the main use of extras in film and TV is as background. Our job is to make reality look normal, or at least palatable, and fill it with much the same grouping of people who would otherwise exist on the very same street or park or police station — only we are specifically hired, instead of gaping at the movie stars or straining to overhear the story, to completely ignore all of it.
So it’s not surprising that, when they were originally casting this, they didn’t think to call real Hasidim.You don’t have to have an intimacy with God or an extensive knowledge of esoteric kabbalistic teachings to be able to walk down the street in a fur hat. As a matter of fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. A bunch of us were hassled by wardrobe people for having our tzitzit on the side, covered by our coat, instead of sticking out in front like a weird sort of phallic symbol. Authenticity gives people a reason to worry. They want to make things look right, not be right, and rightly so — they’re in the business of visuals. Instead, we give them roadblocks.
And more than a few additional problems.
We were supposed to have a sukkah. It is the middle of the Feast of Tabernacles, and observant Jews don’t eat anything outside of a small palm frond-covered booth. Okay, anything is an overstatement. In severe cases, there’s dispensation for eating snack food in small amounts. And it has to be certain kinds: only foods that satisfy the most general blessing, which means they basically have to be either completely ground up or chemically based. (Potato chips, for instance, are a question, because they still sort of look like potatoes.**) But that doesn’t change the fact that the catering crew is putting out the lunch buffet, and it smells really good. Even when the menus are posted, and they’re serving — wait for it — barbecue pork loins. It’s not offensive. It’s just funny.