Image from Wikimedia Commons, by YB13D

8 TV Chanukah Specials, Ranked

A little pop culture parsing for your Festival of Lights

Two of the Education Fellows at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL), Mackenzie Haun and Rena Lubin, started comparing notes recently on Chanukah-themed television episodes/holiday specials. They couldn’t quite remember all of them well, and were curious to see which ones held up and which ones didn’t. So they decided to re-watch them all, discuss, and share their rankings with y’all. Below you’ll find their “pre-re-watching” individual rankings, followed by their musings on each piece and then a jointly agreed-upon final ranking of these eight picks – and trust us, some of ’em don’t hold up. Luckily there are now plenty of new Chanukah pop culture offerings, so feel free to add to the list and rank your own favorites and least-favorites!

Initial Individual Rankings (Based on Memory… BEFORE Re-watching!)

Rena:

  1. The O.C.
  2. Friends
  3. Broad City
  4. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
  5. Rugrats
  6. The Nanny
  7. SNL’s Hanukkah Harry sketch
  8. Eight Crazy Nights

Mackenzie:

    1. Rugrats
    2. Friends
    3. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
    4. The Nanny
    5. SNL
    6. Broad City
    7. Eight Crazy Nights
    8. The O.C.

 

Re-watching, Reviewing, and then… Re-Ranking!

EIGHT CRAZY NIGHTS

RENA: Growing up, my dad loved the comedic styling of Adam Sandler. That has since changed. And I know why. Eight Crazy Nights, upon re-watching, is basically just an hour of crude humor and not-so-nice depictions of Jews. I’d like to say that the intention of having Adam Sandler voice two foil characters in the movie was an attempt at showing an introspective confrontation of self and dealing with cognitive dissonance during the holidays… but I think that’s giving it too much credit.

MACKENZIE: I had very vague memories of watching this when I was younger, and I knew I didn’t really like it but wasn’t sure why… now I KNOW why I’m not into it. Within the first five minutes of the movie the main character (who we are supposed to find sympathetic at the end) dines and dashes, tries to drive drunk, has uncomfortably explicit fake sex with a car, and gets arrested. Top that off with truly terrible jokes about disability, weight, and race, and you get a movie that I think has nothing to do with the spirit of Chanukah.

CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND

RENA: Okay, I’m sure plenty of insightful comments could be made here about assimilation and Americanization. Rachel Bloom’s character Rebecca Bunch has her apartment decked out in Christmas decorations, and must throw it all away and replace them with Chanukah decorations only because her “very Jewish” mother is visiting. Though there are lots of Chanukah symbols and mentions throughout this episode, it really ended up being more about the stereotype of the Jewish Mother than anything else.

MACKENZIE: The highlights of this episode for me were the scene conducted entirely in Yiddish and the three banners Rebecca had in her apartment that each had their own spelling of Chanukah/Hanukkah/Hanukah. I was devastated at the lack of a witty and inappropriate Chanukkah song, but I still had a lot of fun watching this episode. The relationships between Rebecca, her mother, and Paula really shine.

 

FRIENDS

RENA: I have many issues: though two of the main characters are Jewish, we don’t get an episode that is even slightly Jewish until Season 7. Ross attempts to give his son, Ben, a “Jewish education” during the holidays, and he can’t get a word in edgewise; whether he’s competing with his son’s enthusiasm for Christmas or being interrupted, after all that, we don’t even get to hear the story of Chanukah.

MACKENZIE: I generally agree with Rena, though I always cherish the opportunity to see baby Cole Sprouse. I also was somewhat confused with the small bits of the Chanukah story that we did hear, as it included Superman flying the Jews out of Egypt… which even without Superman is the wrong holiday. However, the Holiday Armadillo is something that I often reference, so props for that. This was honestly not as good as I remembered it being.

 

THE O.C.

RENA: Come on, this show basically coined the term for the combo-holiday, “Chrismukkah.” How influential! While this show is drama-filled beyond capacity (hi, early 2000s), which took away from the “Chrismukkah” plot just a little bit, we were definitely reminded that the holidays are all about family, no matter how dysfunctional. As a southern Jew myself, “Chrismukkah” was what I wanted to be celebrating. Not to mention, Seth Cohen was the Jewish man of my dreams.

MACKENZIE: I had never seen a single episode of The O.C. before watching this, so I can’t say I fully understood what was going on. That said, I love Seth’s version of “Chrismukkah” and would have loved if the entire episode was about that. Also, the “high fashion” dress that Mischa Barton’s character wore took me back to the early 2000’s in the worst way. I wish we had gotten an actual menorah lighting or something, but at least there was a solid Chanukah mention.

 

SNL’S HANUKKAH HARRY SKETCH

RENA: Funnily enough, I get to mention my dad again here. An avid watcher of Saturday Night Live, he would reference Hanukkah Harry to me as a child and I liked to think he was my “Jewish Santa Clause.” Even though the sketch (as inclusive as it tried to be) still wound up being primarily about Christian tradition, it also somehow turned into a kind of heartwarming depiction of interfaith relations? I know, I was shocked too.

MACKENZIE: Hanukkah Harry was something that I often heard growing up, but I had no idea that it originated in SNL, so that was a fun surprise. This sketch was nothing like I expected and actually took place during Passover, which was somewhat confusing. It was both more prejudiced and more heartwarming than I expected, which is one of the more oxymoronic sentences I’ve ever written.

 

RUGRATS

RENA: All I can say is: wow. I don’t remember watching this episode as a child, but I think if I had, it would have meant a lot to me. This Rugrats episode was surprisingly and arguably the best, most authentic, wholesome (and historically accurate) depiction of Chanukah I have ever seen. 10/10.

MACKENZIE: I love this episode so much. Rugrats Chanukah and Passover were incredibly important to me growing up.  Framing the story in a way where the babies don’t fully understand what’s going on but oh so sweetly want to save their grandfather from “The Meany of Chanukah” is adorable and still holds up watching it as an adult.

 

BROAD CITY

RENA: Though the show has so much Jewish content, we had to watch a short clip called “Hack into Broad City” for a Chanukah bit. In the typical style of Abbi and Ilana, it’s hilarious, inappropriate, but relatable as a Jewish twenty-something. We have Ilana–who wears hoop earrings that say “Jewess”–go all out in a Chanukah-themed onesie, meanwhile Abbi (who Ilana refers to as “WASPy”) in a Christmas sweater. We still got to see a thoughtful exchange; a close, meaningful friendship; and that it’s okay and acceptable to celebrate the holiday in different ways, as long as it comes from the heart.

MACKENZIE: Between Broad City and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I was really disappointed that neither of my current favorite Jewish shows have specifically-Chanukah focused episodes. I’m glad we got a Broad City short, which was just as full of love and inappropriate humor as the show itself, but would have loved to see a full-length version. That said, Rena sums it up very well, it packs a perfect punch into a short video, and I’m grateful for it.

 

THE NANNY

RENA: #1 lesson learned in this episode: rugelach is delicious no matter what and no one should ever turn it down. However, again, we had to wait for a really long time in the series’ run-time to get some Chanukah content. So as not to give any spoilers (just in case someone out there hasn’t seen The Nanny yet), I don’t understand why characters had to experience a bit of trauma in order to create the space to talk about the miracle of Chanukah. We did get a bit of interfaith dialogue and partnerships though, so I’ll give credit where credit is due.

The fact that The Nanny didn’t have a Chanukah focused episode until season six is beyond me, but I think they made up for it well in this episode. It had rugelach, it had flashbacks, it had drama, it had a nun, I was satisfied. I’m probably not being critical enough here, but what can I say? I love this show.

 

FINAL JOINT RANKING!!

    1. Rugrats
    2. The O.C.
    3. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
    4. Broad City
    5. The Nanny
    6. Friends
    7. SNL’s Hanukkah Harry
    8. Eight Crazy Nights (truly… not worth watching)

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