Jewish dads ready for prime time

Memorable small screen Jewish patriarchs, the good, the bad, and the nebbishy.

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Tony Shalhoub, right, with Rachel Brosnahan in season three of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.)

Ozzie Nelson, Ward Cleaver, Rob Petrie, Carl Winslow, and Andy Taylor. If you Google "best TV dads," you'll notice something almost immediately: not a lot of Jews there. 

But over the past 30 years, Jewish dads have been deemed ready for prime time, and while they are not paragons as were most of the Boomer-era screen dads like Jim Anderson or Steve Douglas, some profess to know best (Peter Gallagher's Sandy Cohen on The O.C.) while others certainly try their best (Eugene Levy's loving, but overwhelmed Johnny Rose on Schitt's Creek). 

Here's a roundup of memorable small screen Jewish patriarchs, the good, the bad, and the nebbishy: 

Seinfeld gave us two Jewish fathers. First, there was Jerry's dad, Morty (Barney Martin), a retired raincoat maven, who never lets his son pick up a check, never wants to inconvenience him, and is his son's staunchest defender. And then there's Frank Costanza. I know; Costanza, but come on. Frank is played to full boil by the late (and Jewish) Jerry Stiller. As Jason Zinoman noted in The New York Times , "He didn't remind me of a specific relative so much as all of them yelling at each other at the same time, over chopped liver." 

Jeff Garlin's Murray Goldberg on The Goldbergs is a Jewish father in the Frank Costanza mold. His fatherly advice for children can be boiled down to, "Stop being morons." He is strict and verbally abusive, but he's funny 'cause he's true, according to Adam Goldberg, who created the show about his own dysfunctional family. 

Abe Weissman, portrayed by Tony Shalhoub on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel , is your stereotypical controlling Jewish father who is initially not supportive of his daughter's decision to pursue a life and career in stand-up comedy. But his love for her is palpable and his own journey of self-discovery is one of the show's most meaningful subplots. 

Another stubborn and meddling father is widower Shulem Shtisel (Doval'e Glickman), head of the eponymous family on the Israeli TV series Shtisel , set in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox community. It is available for binging on Netflix. An American version set in Brooklyn is in development from Friends co-creator Marta Kaufman. Oy. 

Jack Gellar on Friends is lucky he's portrayed by the eminently likeable Elliot Gould. He can be tactlessly obtuse and he clearly favors son Ross over daughter Monica, whom he dubs "Harmonica." But all is forgiven in the episode "The One With the Princess Leia Fantasy" when he shows up at his daughter's apartment to give her a "Monicuddle" after her devastating breakup with Richard. 

"That's the beauty of Yom Kippur; as long as you apologize by sundown it doesn't matter what you do." This is Judaism according to Ari Gold, the cutthroat Hollywood super-agent portrayed by Emmy-winner Jeremy Piven on Entourage . The father of two is an overbearing Type-A workaholic, but he will ultimately (albeit self-servingly) do anything for his children, including arrange for a child actor to film a movie out of the country to keep him away from his daughter. 

Krusty the Clown on The Simpsons was revealed to be Jewish in the season three episode, "Like Father, Like Clown." In this homage to The Jazz Singer , Krusty has been estranged for 25 years from his rabbi father, voiced by Jackie Mason, who disapproved of Krusty's clowning career. If you didn't tear up at their reconciliation over the song, "Oh My Papa," then you are made of sterner stuff than I am. 

Donald Liebenson is a Chicago writer who writes forVanityFair.com, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, and other outlets.



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