What ‘A Rugrats Passover’ Gets Wrong

I've got a few (shank) bones to pick with the classic '90s episode.

It’s beloved. It’s iconic. It’s 24 minutes of pure Jewish nostalgia. I have loved “A Rugrats Passover” since it first aired in 1994, when I was a wee 8-year-old delighted by the fact that my favorite babies on TV celebrated the same holiday as I did. I’m sure I learned the story of Passover from years of Hebrew school, but I’m also sure that what really helped it stick in my mind was my annual 30-minute seder with Boris and Minka. I’ve continued to sporadically rewatch the episode well into adulthood, always relieved by the fact that, unlike so many other ’90s relics, it really holds up.

So what I’m about to do might seem counterintuitive. Blasphemous, even. But I actually think it’s an important Jewish value to revisit the same stories again and again, to go over them with a fine-tooth comb and dissect where things could have been better, different, deeper, wiser, to take something idolized by the masses and hold it to the light. To ask questions! To work towards a greater world! To kvetch!

And so yes, “A Rugrats Passover” is beyond wonderful, but after watching it for the 587th time, I have just a few (shank) bones to pick with it. If this list inspires you to revisit the episode and kvetch along — or defend its honor — please join the Hey Alma team and your fellow community members for a virtual watch party and discussion of the very special episode tomorrow night (get the details and register here!).

1. Stu is an unsupportive interfaith partner.

First, let me clear the air: Stu Pickles is not Jewish. You might assume that Stu Pickles is Jewish because his name is Stu Pickles, but it is actually Tommy’s mother Didi who is Jewish.

I don’t know what kind of conversations Stu and Didi had about the place of religion in their interfaith relationship before getting married, and I realize that Tommy, as a perpetual baby, may be too young for them to start thinking about whether he’ll go to Hebrew school, have a bar mitzvah or check the “Just Jewish” box on those organizational surveys, but it’s clear that Didi is very connected to her Jewish heritage, especially through her parents, Boris and Minka. So it is absolutely unacceptable that Stu’s first line in the episode, while driving his family to the seder, is: “Di, are you sure this whole ceremony’s really necessary? It’s so boring.” He goes onto question why, if it’s so meaningful, there aren’t any presents (grow up, Stu). And when he needs to fill in for Boris, who went missing, and lead the seder himself, he uses the most deadpan, unenthused voice possible, a perfect example of a self-fulfilling prophecy in which he who is bored makes for a very boring seder.

It’s just rude. Boris and Minka open their home to this man (and his brother, sister-in-law and bratty niece), they bust out their family heirloom wineglasses brought over from the old country, they grind out homemade gefilte fish, and he can’t even fake some good cheer? Like I said, RUDE.

2. The babies-as-slaves analogy doesn’t hold up.

In the reenactment of the Passover story as told by Boris and imagined by Angelica, the Hebrew slaves are represented by babies. You know the babies are babies because they are only wearing diapers and they are small. The Egyptians, represented by slightly older kids, are bigger and in full Egyptian garb. But when Pharaoh discovers Moses in the river (which, while I’m at it, is not what happened in the real Passover story, in which Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the floating Moses in the river, though I do understand how it would be complicated to imply that 3-year-old Angelica, who takes the role of Pharaoh here, would have a daughter…) she immediately takes Moses under her wing. Boris tells the kinderlach that “Pharaoh didn’t know Moses was a Hebrew,” but Tommy-as-Moses is literally so baby. He is only discovered to be a Hebrew/baby after his head covering falls off, but when he was first found in the river, he didn’t have that head covering, and he was wearing the exact same diaper that the slave babies wear. I just feel like somebody didn’t think this through.

3. Inauthentic casting

Chuckie plays one of the slave babies, but we know from his dad, Charles, that they are not Jewish (“We’re not really anything,” Chas wistfully muses). We all know the importance of Jewish roles going to Jewish actors. Do better, Csupo and Klasky.

4. The most Jewish line goes to the non-Jew

Speaking of that ginger gentile Chuckie, when the babies first make their way up to Boris and Minka’s attic in search of better toys, spooky music plays while Chuckie says, “This place is really scary, Tommy.” Tommy, in a move that actually diminishes his friend’s feelings in a pretty unhelpful way, says, “No it’s not, Chuckie. It’s all in your mind.”

And then there it is, Chuckie’s perfect, beautifully Jewish response: “Well my mind is a pretty scary place!”

That kind of mental-illness-self-awareness is just too Jewish not to be said by a Jew.

 5. They skipped some plagues

I admire the way the show handles the death of the firstborn plague, making it more appropriate for their youthful viewership by saying instead that the firstborn children were merely “taken away.” So it feels like a bit of a cop-out to not apply some creativity to the first plague — that of the blood — which they simply… passed over. A plague of grape juice? Red splatter paint? I dunno, mud?? I am not a professional television writer, just a 37-year-old who quotes “Let my babies go!” every time I pass a playground, but I believe that the writers who made a living creating the world of “Rugrats” could’ve done something more here.

6. It’s not long enough

Give me the feature-length film, please. I have so much more I want to enjoy and then complain about.

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