The following is a list of new broadcast network TV shows that premiere through September 22 and have Jewish and/or interfaith cast members in important roles.
Kat Dennings, 25, who is Jewish, co-stars in the CBS comedy 2 Broke Girls. She plays one of a pair of waitresses working at a Brooklyn greasy spoon who hope, one day, to open their own eatery. It starts Monday, September 19, at 9:30 p.m. right after Two and a Half Men. (Thereafter, 2 Broke Girls will air Mondays at 8:30 p.m.)
I recommend, by the way, renting the charming film, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008), which co-starred Dennings (Norah) and Michael Cera (Nick). Nick and Norah are recent high school graduates who are both “sensitive souls” and good people. They both have had some recent hard romantic knocks with partners who were selfish and hurtful. Over the course of one long night, Nick and Norah find each other and each, in their own way, confirms the worth of the other. In one scene, Norah, who is supposed to be Jewish, explains the Jewish religious concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world) to Cera’s character, who isn’t supposed to be Jewish. It’s nicely handled.
Starting the same night (September 19), on NBC at 10 p.m., is The Playboy Club. Set in 1963, it’s a largely fictional take on the first Playboy Club in Chicago.
Jewish actor David Krumholtz, 33, co-stars as “Billy Rosen,” the club’s manager. Krumholtz has many film credits and was one of the co-stars of the long-running CBS show, Numb3ers.
Starting on Tuesday, September 13, at 9 p.m. on CW is Ringer, a drama starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, 34. Gellar plays a woman who, after witnessing a murder, goes on the run and assumes the life of her rich identical twin sister — only to learn that her sister’s life is both very complicated and very dangerous.
When Gellar was starring in the big TV hit, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, many asked me if both her parents are Jewish. The answer is “yes,” but the actress very rarely talks about being Jewish. In 2002, Gellar married actor Freddie Prinze, Jr., 35, who was raised Catholic, in a non-denominational ceremony.
Starting on Tuesday, September 20, at 9 p.m. on FOX, is New Girl, a sitcom starring Zooey Deschanel, 31, as a nice girl who moves in with three single guys after a romantic break-up. One of them, “Schmidt,” a Casanova, is played by Jewish actor Max Greenfield, 30.
Starting on Wednesday, September 14, at 8 p.m. is the NBC comedy, Up All Night. Christina Applegate, 39, stars as a successful businesswoman, with Will Arnett, 41, as her stay-at-home husband/baby care-giver. Interfaith actress Maya Rudolph, 39, co-stars as Applegate’s boss and best friend.
Starting on NBC, right after Up All Night, is Free Agents, a workplace comedy. Jewish actor Hank Azaria, 47, plays “Alex,” a newly-divorced public relations executive. He has a one-night stand with his gorgeous co-worker, “Helen” (played by Kathryn Hahn, 37) but she really just wants to be friends. His co-workers, including “Dan” (played by stand-up Jewish comic Mo Mandel, 30) try to get Alex to date again.
Mandel, who celebrated his bar mitzvah and went to Israel on a Birthright trip, grew up in Boonville, California (population 1,000), a pretty little town in the redwoods, about a hundred miles north of San Francisco. Once a logging town, now it’s an odd mixture of rednecks, aged hippies, wine growers and boutique beer brewers. Mandel told the San Francisco Jewish paper in 2007 that his was one of only four Jewish families in Boonville.
I was amused by this comic self-description that is part of Mandel’s standup act:
I’m Jewish in kind of a weird way. Check it out — face and hair are just excessively Jewy; then I got, like, the muscular jock’s body. Kind of in between a Jew and a guy who drives by in a truck and yells, “Jew.” A little bit dreidel, a little bit methamphetamine.
Starting on Wednesday, September 21, at 8 p.m., is the FOX talent competition show, The X-Factor, in which the judges scour the country for vocal talent (solo and groups), with a $5 million prize package for the winner.
The show re-unites, once again as judges, American Idol judges Paula Abdul, 49, and Simon Cowell, 51. Cowell found out a few years ago that his late father was Jewish via a celebrity family history article in a British paper. His mother is not Jewish.
Abdul’s last name and looks “confuse people” as to her ethnic and/or religious background. Her father is a Syrian-born Jew and her mother is a Canadian-born Ashkenazi Jew.
Finally, the new season of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars begins on Monday, September 19, at 8 p.m. The celebrity dancers include Jewish actress and talk show host Ricki Lake, 42.
Also dancing is actor David Arquette, 40, whose late mother was Jewish.
The Arquette acting siblings have one of the most complex and unusual religious backgrounds imaginable.
Long story short: while David Arquette is proud of his Jewish background, I’d have to label him a non-denominational Christian. I say this based on his fairly recent interview statements about religion. (It’s my strong sense that his sisters, Rosanna Arquette and Patricia Arquette, don’t identify with any faith.)
The co-host of Dancing, interfaith model Brooke Burke, 40, married Jewish actor David Charvet (of Baywatch fame), 39, on August 12, 2011. Burke, whose mother is Jewish, had been engaged to Charvet for five years and they have two young children together. The children, at last report, were attending a Jewish pre-school. No word on whether the couple had a religious wedding ceremony or not.
Regular Dancing watchers will recall that Burke won the Dancing with the Stars competition that was held during fall, 2008.
The Emmys, for excellence in primetime TV, will be telecast, live, on FOX, at 8 p.m., on Sunday, September 18. Here are the Jewish and interfaith nominees in the acting categories:
Almost all of these nominees, above, have been mentioned in past columns. Banks and Winningham are Jews-by-Choice. Wood is the daughter of a Jewish mother who converted to Judaism and a father who is not Jewish. Paltrow is the daughter of a Jewish father. The rest, just above, are the children of two Jewish parents.
Three Jewish performers are nominated for best variety, musical or comedy special:
Fisher, as noted in my last column, and other columns, is of interfaith background and identifies as Jewish.
There are too many nominated Jewish/interfaith writers, directors, musicians, and producers to name them all here. Some are multiple past winners:
Here is just a sampling of other “tribe” members who scored 2011 nominations in multiple categories:
All the persons in the two preceding paragraphs, except Haynes, are the children of two Jewish parents. Haynes, who I have profiled before, is of interfaith background: the child of a Jewish mother.
It probably won’t happen again, so I thought I’d point out, as a fun footnote, that this year four actors who are not Jewish are nominated for playing Jewish characters:
All these actors, save Cummings, have a long track record of playing Jewish characters.
I have mentioned several times in this column that Giamatti’s wife is Jewish and they are raising their only child, a son, in his mother’s faith. I just came across some quite interesting statements about religion that Giamatti made in a May, 2011 interview. Here are a couple of excerpts:
My Dad’s dad was from Naples. Religion features more now in my life than it did when I was a kid — my Dad rejected the Catholic Church as a young man. I had no religious upbringing but certainly Dad was a kind-of secular humanist. I don’t know if he was an atheist or agnostic. I regret I didn’t talk to him about it. My mum didn’t have any formal religion but she was superstitious. In a crunch she would pray. To cover her ass, she would believe…I consider myself an atheist. My wife is Jewish. And I’m fine with my son being raised as a Jew. He’s learning Hebrew and is really into it. I will talk to my own son about my atheism when the time is right. But there’s a great tradition of Jewish atheism, there are no better atheists in the world than the Jews.
Giamatti’s father was Bart Giamatti (1938-1989), a renaissance man who was a Yale literature professor, president of Yale University and commissioner of professional baseball at the time of his sudden death.
Jewish fashion designer Ralph Lauren, 71, certainly knows how to “help” with a family wedding.
InterfaithFamily.com editor, Benjamin Maron, has already blogged about the most recent extravaganza: the September 5 wedding of David Lauren, 39, to Lauren Bush, 27. David is Ralph Lauren’s son and probable fashion house heir; Lauren is the daughter of Neil Bush, a son of the first President Bush. US Weekly covered the high-end nuptials.
Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, who is of interfaith parentage herself (Buddhist mother and Jewish father), presided over the wedding.
As the US Weekly piece says, Ralph Lauren designed Lauren Bush’s lavish wedding gown. As far as I know, this is only the third wedding gown that Lauren has designed. In 2003, he designed a wedding dress for Jewish actress Elizabeth Berkeley (Saved by the Bell, Showgirls) when she wed Ralph Lauren’s brother’s son, artist Greg Lauren. They had a huge Jewish wedding in Mexico.
Dylan Lauren, 37, Ralph’s daughter, wed hedge fund manager Paul Arrouet. Again, Ralph Lauren designed the bride’s very ornate wedding gown. A rabbi presided over this wedding. (I know that Arrouet’s mother is Jewish. I simply don’t know much about his father).
What most people don’t know is that in the eyes of the Orthodox and Conservative wings of Judaism, Ralph Lauren, himself, is in an interfaith marriage and his children, Dylan, David, and Andrew, would not be considered Jewish. So, while I expect some people affiliated with these two movements of American Judaism are kvetching about the Jewish David Lauren marrying someone of another faith, their complaints are based on a mistaken premise.
Ralph Lauren has been married to Ricky Low-Beer since 1964 and she is the mother of his three children. In the fascinating biography, Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren, (2003), author Michael Gross lays-out, in well-researched detail, the religious background of Low-Beer. Low-Beer’s father, Rudolph, was an Austrian Jew who fled Vienna when the Nazis took over in 1938. He arrived in America in 1941.
Gross says he is unsure whether Rudolph converted away from Judaism while in Europe. However, there is no question that Ricky Low-Beer’s Austrian mother, Margaret, was Catholic. Therefore, as Gross writes, “formally speaking [by traditional Jewish religious law], Ralph Lauren’s children are not Jewish.”
Gross goes on to say that the Orthodox-raised Ralph Lauren was well aware of the fact that the beautiful woman he was smitten with was not Jewish by Orthodox standards (because her mother was not Jewish) and he kept this fact from his family for as long as he could.
Gross doesn’t say if Ricky was raised in any faith although she once told an interviewer that she owned Christmas ornaments that had been in her family for generations. In any event, the three Lauren children were raised as Reform Jews and had bar and bat mitzvahs.
As an editorial comment, I have to say that I admire the way Ralph Lauren managed to live his life by his own lights, but kept his children in the Jewish community and, in a certain way, even helped make being Jewish kind of cool. His wife may not have been Jewish in the eyes of many Jews, but that didn’t cause him to completely break away from the Jewish religious community. Lauren raised his children in the Reform movement, which accepted these children as Jewish based on parentage, the children’s self-identification and their religious upbringing.