Arts & Culture

The Top Ten Jews On Television

Maybe we’re helping push along the myth that Jews control media by listing our ten favorite Jews on the small screen, but in this case we’re willing to take that chance. Read More

By / December 13, 2010

In the world of television there are Jews as far the eye cans see, and the Jews grow as high as an elephant’s eye: writers, directors, producers and actors — there are Jewish names all over the small screen, with the one exception tending to be when it comes to Jewish characters.  Ask anybody to name a Jew centric show barring Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and we wouldn’t suggest holding your breath.

With that said, Jews are represented on television; it may be mostly when the credits roll, but these are our ten favorite Jews –fictional characters or important behind the scenes people–on television.

1.  Mathew Weiner (Producer/Mad Men)

We began Jews Watching Mad Men in the first place because there were Jews were watching Mad Men, in droves!  During JWMM this season, conversation often flared about the unique and interesting portrayal of Jewish women on the show.  Thus far, Mad Men has produced two of the most dynamic Jewish female characters on TV.   Doc Faye Miller (played by Cara Buono) and Rachel Menken (played by Sons of Anarchy’s Maggie Siff) were two women that came into Don Draper’s life and made their presence known, each leaving their own special mark on Don’s already bruised psyche before their grand exit. Matthew Weiner, a former writer for The Soprano’s originally pitched Mad Men to HBO and when they turned him down, Weiner set out to make Mad Men that much better, thereby turning the network that acquired it into HBO’s biggest competition.  Slowly but surely, AMC is shaping up to be just that, forcing HBO to compete for their much-coveted high brow audience.

2.  Katey Sagal (Actor/Character/Sons of Anarchy)

As far as Jewish TV characters go, Gemma Teller is one of the most fleshed out, as well as one of the most unexpected when it comes to going against the grain of Jewish stereotypes.  Son’s Of Anarchy is a show about an outlaw motorcycle club that draws from Shakespearean drama archetypes in a way that no show has since The Wire.  Gemma Teller is the queen bee or “Head Old Lady” of the Redwood Original Chapter of The Sons Of Anarchy, perhaps not what you would expect to see at the number 2 slot on this list.  One might not have even known that she was Jewish had it not been for a scene during the second season where she faces off against the leader of the local Aryan Motorcycle gang, warning him to watch his step with the anti-Semitic remarks.  Gemma is a survivor, who proves herself capable of overcoming the most trying situations.  Though, her number one priority, is always to protect her family.  Of course, Katy Sagal is best known for her role as Peggy Bundy, perhaps the least Jewish TV character in history.  She recently married Sons of Anarchy Creator, Kurt Sutter and continues to contribute her voice to Futurama.

3. Michael Stuhlbarg (Actor/Character/Boardwallk Empire)

For all the young Jewish boys who used to like to play pretend, “Mobster” was always exceptionally fun, because there were so many Jewish mobsters to choose from: tough guy maniac Bugsy Seigel to stoic and ruthless puppeteer Meyer Lansky to, of course, Arnold Rothstein, or “The Brain.”  Rothstein was known for mentoring up and coming gangsters and teaching them how to dress.  However, he’s best remembered for paying the Chicago Black Sox to throw the 1919 World Series (and a few great fictional representations).

On the show, Rothstein is one of the most confident calculated criminals portrayed on television since Omar from The Wire.  Stuhlbarg, who studied at Julliard, was nominated for a Tony for his role in the outstandingly dark play, The Pillowman and also appeared in the infinitely Jewish film, A Serious Man.  His portrayal of Rothstein, with his velvety, laid back voice, illustrious taste and urbane facade is the perfect model for the Jewish gangster of yore.

4.     Allison Brie (Actress/Character/Community)

Allison Brie got her start acting at her local Jewish community center.  She did a little TV work before auditioning and being chosen for the role of Trudy Campbell on Mad Men.  However, it wasn’t until she began playing the role of Annie Edison, the recovered pill-popping perfectionist with doe eyes and innocent crush on everyone, that she really began to shine as a force in the TV world.  She also became the new fantasy girlfriend for every Jewish boy who’s ever added his surname to Mila or Winona to see how it sounds.

5. Paul Lieberstein (Writer/Actor/The Office)

If Paul Lieberstein had his way, he’d have almost no screen time on The Office.  Lieberstein, who spent years on the writing team for King Of The Hill, is not only one of the main writers on The Office but his portrayal of Toby makes for one of the most beloved small, but important roles on the show.

6.  Puck From Glee (Character/Glee)

Puck from Glee, played by Mark Salling must be one of the most visible Jewish characters on television right now, and fortunately, in writing him, Glee scribes don’t bow to the pressure of writing him as “a Jew in a box.”   The character of Noah Puckerman is a tough rebel without a cause, who plays football and constantly has epiphanies that he needs to be a better Jew or only date other Jews.  Hell, he’s probably the most believable Jew on TV in that respect.

7.  Fred Savage (Director/It’s Always Sunny In Philiadelphia/Party Down)

Any child of the 80’s who aspired to be an actor, worshiped Fred Savage.  Not only did he star in The Wizard, the first and only awesome video game movie, but he starred in the best coming of age TV show of all time, The Wonder Years, and lets not forget Little Monsters with Howie Mandell.  Now, Savage’s efforts go towards directing some of the best comedies on TV.  Savage has come to hone a very unique and identifiable style through his work in Party Down and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia; juxtaposing off beat comedy and biography style drama in a way that nobody else can.  Early episodes of Party Down perfectly illustrate what has become, “the Savage Style,” or “Savage verite.”

8.  Andy Botwin (Character/Weeds)

Without Andy Botwin, Weeds would hardly be worth watching.  Andy’s non-stop neurosis and constant confidence completes the show and makes for a character we can all relate to, managing to stay charming even when your want ring his neck.  Watching him go from a hardcore pothead slacker to studying to become a rabbi to living off the grid has made for reliable TV fun. The question is, will he and Nancy ever get it on?

9.  Ginnifer Goodwin (Actress/Big Love)

Ginnifer Goodwin is a Tennessee born Jew who’s first big role came in the movie Walk the Line playing Johnny Cash’s first wife, but it’s her role as Margene Heffman on Big Love, that has made her a standout.  Margene is not only one of the most dynamic characters on the tube, but she has one of the most prominent arcs of any character on TV.  Starting as a naïve babysitter turned third wife, she’s become much more assertive in her role as lowest wife of the totem pole, able to identify where her power in the relationship lies and how far her charm can take her.  However, her little tryst with her husband’s son this past season has put her in a precarious situation. Big Love may be the most well acted show on television right now and Goodwin’s skills are a major part of that.

10.  Howard Wolowitz/Simon Hellberg (Actor/Character/The Big Bang Theory)

The Character, Howard Wolowitz (played by Simon Hellberg), reinforces every possible Jewish stereotype.  He is a sex-obsessed nerdy momma’s boy, who often finds himself helping his mother in and out of the bathtub.  He’s willing to do just about anything to get laid, even if it means wrecking a multi million dollar government robot and his sleaziness towards women is damn near cartoony..  Luckily, the actor and writers have the tact to make these flaws funny, without being a offensive, dishing it out to everyone equally, and giving Howard enough self-awareness to be realistic and charming.  Besides, who could possibly deny I that if there are two things Jewish men like, it’s sex and brisket, what else is new?