Jews have always been part of queer TV. The oft-problematic, widely beloved and undeniably history-making “Will & Grace” was co-created by a (straight) Jewish man, David Kohan (yes, that’s the brother of Jenji Kohan). The show gave us Will’s very (secularly and somewhat stereotypically) Jewish and very straight best friend Grace Adler, played by Jewish actress Debra Messing.
Early queer shows, like the American version of “Queer as Folk” and the groundbreaking (and again, widely problematic by today’s standards) “The L-Word,” also featured Jewish characters — but they were mostly variations of the “Jewish-American princess” stereotypes.
A lot has changed since then. Jewish queer representation on TV has gotten better and more nuanced. Does it still miss the mark at times? Of course (here’s looking at you, “they mitzvah”). Could it be more diverse? Um, yes, absolutely!
Still, we’ve gotten quite a few great, groundbreaking Jewish characters on TV, especially in kids’ TV — and we thought it might be a good opportunity to go on a trip through time and appreciate the breadth of queer Jewish rep.
While there are delightful queer Jewish characters on international shows — like the French “Family Business” and the Israeli “Sisters” — and in reality TV, this list focuses on narrative American shows and really gives us a sense both of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go! Here’s hoping for even more, and better, queer Jewish representation on TV in the future.
1. Willow Rosenberg in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1997 – 2003)
“Buffy” is another show that now has a complicated legacy, following allegations against its creator, Joss Whedon, who also made some pretty xenophobic statements against actress Gal Gadot after she accused him of mistreating her on the set of “Justice League.” Yet it has undeniably changed the lives of so many who watched it growing up. “Buffy” also gave us one of the first lesbian couples on TV — witches Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay.
Willow is the first queer Jewish character in a fantasy show, and we love a Jewish witch. She was played by Jewish actress Alyson Hannigan, later of “How I Met Your Mother” fame. As Nikki Lacey wrote in Hey Alma, seeing Tara and Willow’s relationship on TV gave her hope that she, too, could be in a loving, gay relationship and be proud of her sexuality.
2. Melanie “Mel” Marcus in the U.S. version of “Queer as Folk” (2000 – 2005)
Early Jewish representation in queer TV was, uh, not great. Melanie is a Jewish lawyer and the antagonist to her sweet, gentle girlfriend. In episode three of the show’s first season, the main characters essentially foil her baby’s bris in a storyline that features both xenophobic and bad Jewish jokes. Honestly, there’s not much beyond that as far as Jewish representation in the original “Queer As Folk” goes — though we do at least get to see Mel’s character evolve a bit beyond the bitchy, bossy, Jewish American Princess-y stereotype… So, at least there’s that? For this and so many other reasons, the very smutty show didn’t age very well. Its reboot is currently airing on Peacock and is definitely a much better show when it comes to representation.
3. Jenny Shechter in “The L-Word” (2004 – 2009)
Jenny was meant to be a surrogate character for Ilene Chaiken, the Jewish co-creator of “The L-Word,” which was first lesbian-focused American TV show. Jenny, played by actress Mia Kirshner, was extremely… not lovable. As Emma Nair wrote for JWA, “Jenny is brutally annoying, and her characteristics seem to be entirely based on the definition of the Jewish American Princess stereotype.” Nair also brings up the fact that all the Jewish aspects of her character are badly crafted (an inverted chai necklace and nonsensical Jewish prayers.) Still, Chaiken and “The L-Word” made queer TV history.
4. & 5. Ari and Gittel in “Transparent” (2014 – 2019)
“Transparent” was an absolutely groundbreaking Jewish show that unfortunately — due to controversy surrounding its star Jefferey Tambor, whose character Maura was the first transgender Jewish protagonist in a TV show — also now has a complicated legacy. But if you can still handle watching it, it’s probably one of the most fascinating and Jewish shows ever made.
Based on the real-life experience of Jewish creator Joey Soloway, the show is full of queer representation. Of the many, many queer characters in the show, perhaps two of the most interesting Jewish ones are Ari — played Gaby Hoffman and based on Joey, they later come out as non-binary when the Pfefferman family goes on a trip to Israel — and Gittel, played by Hari Nef (also our favorite TV rabbi in “And Just Like That”). Gittel is Maura’s great aunt who was also trans and most likely did not survive the Holocaust. The flashbacks to 1930s which feature young Gittel are a fascinating exploration of early trans history, including queer German Jewish sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld.
6. & 7. Abbi & Ilana in “Broad City” (2014 – 2019)
It’s so very nice to think about the fact that one of the very best comedies on TV not only starred two incredible Jewish creators, but two queer Jewish creators — both on and offscreen Both new-ish Jewish moms Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, who is currently in a relationship with South African actress Jodi Balfour, identify as queer. Throughout the show, the onscreen Abbi and Ilana express same-sex attraction, with Abbi dating a nice female doctor and Ilana obviously crushing on her BFF. Yet they never pin down their sexuality, which, as this Mashable piece rightfully asserts, is a lovely queer gift.
“My queerness has been kind of shown to me through Broad City, and Abbi, too,” Glazer said in a 2020 interview.
8. Billy in “Difficult People” (2015 – 2017)
“Difficult People,” a fabulous comedy about two aspiring Jewish actors, is one of my favorite shows, and Billy, played by “Billy on the Street” star Billy Eichner, is, obviously, one of my favorite TV characters. Perhaps it’s because he’s so much like the real-life Billy Eichner: funny, irreverent, full of chutzpah. In the show, we meet Billy’s more observant Jewish brother (Fred Armisen), who is married to the incredible frum Ruchel, played by the great Jackie Hoffman.
The Jewish aspects of the show are so authentic and enjoyable, even if they are exaggerated at times. It’s probably because both Eichner and co-creator Julie Klausner are Jewish.
We also can’t wait to watch Eichner’s sexy queer romcom “Bros,” which has a very very Jewish cast and in which he appears to play a Jewish podcaster.
9. David Rose in “Schitt’s Creek” (2015 – 2021)
Is there a more lovable TV character than David Rose? No, no, there isn’t. He’s a ray of sweater-wearing pansexual sunshine. The show about a rich family who loses all their wealth and has to move to a small Canadian town and run a motel was co-created by Jewish father-son duo Eugene and Dan Levy. It is a celebration of gay love, family and friendship that managed to be joyful, funny and not overly saccharine.
It also brought us such lovely interfaith Jewish representation — Johnny Rose, David’s father, is Jewish, while his mother Moira is not. In the show’s wonderful Christmas special, David called himself “a delightful half-half situation.” We love that definition so much.
10. Cyrus Goodman in “Andi Mack” (2017 – 2019)
As Linda Buchwald wrote in Kveller, Disney’s “Andi Mack,” a show about a young girl who discovers her sister is actually her mother, was a seriously groundbreaking show — and also incredibly Jewish. The show, which ran between 2017 and 2019, featured Disney channel’s first gay Jewish character, Cyrus Goodman, played by Jewish actor Joshua Rush. And its Jewish representation went way beyond the cursory (but epic!) bar mitzvah, giving us a shiva-themed episode called “One in a Minyan” (I mean…) in which Cyrus came out to his crush with the following line: “That’s gefilte fish. Skip that. And I’m gay.” How could you not love that?
11. Malkie in “Younger” (2015 – 2021)
Malkie in “Younger” isn’t a central character, but she did bring us Orthodox Jewish lesbian rep and we love her for that. Malkie, played by Jewish actress Sally Pressman, stars in six episodes of the show about Liza, a 40-year-old divorcee and single mom who pretends to be 25 to get a job in publishing (the premise may be confusing but the show is such a friggin’ delight!). Malkie is the girlfriend of Maggie, Liza’s best friend, in season three. As Haley Longman writes in this review of the show, Malkie is “an Orthodox clothing designer slash boutique owner who takes her for a dip in the mikvah, teaches her the rules of Shabbat, and informs her, among other things, that an ‘Orthodyke’ is a real term.”
12. Frankie in “Better Things” (2016 – 2022)
“Better Things” is one of the better things that has happened to our TV screens in recent years. It’s got fabulous, authentic single Jewish mom representation in the show’s heroine, Sam — courtesy of IRL single Jewish mom showrunner Pamela Adlon (whose daughters Gideon and Odessa are also very talented actresses). The show also has great queer representation thanks to Frankie, possibly one of the best examples of queer teen identity on TV. Frankie, played by Hannah Riley, is Sam’s middle child, whose gender identity and sexuality are fluid throughout the show. Sam learns to just accept Frankie for who she is at any given moment and to let go of the need to pin down Sam’s gender or sexuality. Basically, she learns to be the parent her queer child needs her to be in the show, and we love that so much.
“The style of the show is that it’s like life, where all the answers are not just handed to you, a lot of things you just have to figure out for yourself,” Riley once said in an interview. How true and perfect is that?!
13. Kelsey Pokoly from “Craig of the Creek” (2018 – present)
Kelsey Pokoly is the first Jewish queer character in an animated kids’ TV show, and we’re a little obsessed with her. She’s geeky and imaginative, and she loves latkes. Throughout the show’s run, Kelsey has never been interested in boys, and in season four, she finally reveals her crush on her best friend Stacks, who tells her “Whether in the pages of a book or the time we share together, you’re the girl I long for by my side.” We’re not crying, you’re crying!
14. Kate Kane in Batwoman (2019 – 2022)
Kate Kane, AKA Batwoman, is canonically Jewish in the D.C. universe, and before the TV adaptation of the comics came out, its creator confirmed that the character would also be Jewish in the show. Unfortunately, the show didn’t live up to its hype, and Ruby Rose, who played Kane, left it after the first season — thereby killing off her character and giving us a new, non-Jewish Batwoman.
The first season of “Batwoman” didn’t harp much on Kane’s Jewish identity (one episode did feature pictures of her at a bat mitzvah), but the show did give Kane a very Jewish funeral: a rabbi, black ribbons and a simple pine box that was buried along with our hopes for Jewish, queer superhero representation on TV… At least for now.
15. Ben Platt as Payton Hobart in “The Politician” (2019 – present)
I contemplated whether to include the very non-Jewish-sounding Payton Hobart in this show, but it might be nice to have some queer, awkwardly Jewish anti-hero representation on this list. Jewish musician and actor Ben Platt rose to fame as the original “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway; he was cast as the main character in this Ryan Murphy show about a teen who is obsessed with being a successful politician.
Hobart’s relationship with both his queerness and his Judaism is complicated — he has no problems making jokes about being Jewish for political gain, but does not truly embrace his Jewish identity.
16. Asher Wolk in “The Good Doctor” (2020 – present)
Asher Wolk, a gay former ultra-Orthodox doctor in the smash hit medical drama “The Good Doctor,” is played by queer Jewish actor Noah Galvin — who also happens to be Ben Platt’s boyfriend (we love their love). His character is inspired by show creator David Shore’s actual Jewish family. The Jewish Canadian writer has a brother who is an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, and Wolk was loosely inspired by Shore’s nieces and nephews. In the show, Wolk has left his religion and doesn’t believe in God, which makes him a compelling, complex Jewish character.
17. Rock in “And Just Like That” (2022 – preset)
The Jewish representation in “And Just Like That,” and the original “Sex and the City,” is definitely super, super flawed. Rock, Charlotte and Harry’s youngest child who is struggling with their gender identity, sometimes feels like what a middle-aged writers’ room imagines a genderqueer character would sound and act like. Yet there are some inherent truths to Rock’s ambivalence — both when it comes to gender and when it comes to Judaism — in their “they mitzvah” episode that just can’t be ignored.
18. Barney in “Dead End: Paranormal Park” (2022 – present)
The latest Jewish queer rep on TV comes from this absolutely darling Netflix show, a diverse animation full of queer and neurodiverse representation. “Dead End: Paranormal Park” is about two teens who apply to work in an amusement park only to find out that it is infested with demons.
The main character of the show, Barney, is Jewish and trans and voiced by a Jewish trans actor, Zach Barack. Barney, who also has an adorable pug named Pugsley, is absolutely enchanting and relatable, and it just makes me so happy to end this list with a character that we honestly need more of.