What do The Great Gatsby, Al Jolson, and Italian mobsters have to do with the hottest show on cable?

The AMC drama Mad Men is set at the dawn of the 1960s in the fictional Madison Avenue advertising agency Sterling Cooper—an old-guard bastion of hard-drinking WASP executives. But orbiting Mad Men’s lily-white center are a number of ethnic characters, including a series of indelible Jewish personalities, who, though ancillary, may in fact offer a key to understanding the show’s overriding theme.

A week before Mad Men’s second-season finale, series creator Matthew Weiner invited Nextbook into his home to explore the show’s Jewish voices. Weiner—who was born in Baltimore and raised in Los Angeles, where he lives today with his wife and four sons—is a veteran TV writer who previously worked on sit-coms and spent four years as a producer and writer on The Sopranos. In the living room of his home in L.A.’s Fairfax District, the historic center of the city’s Jewish community, he explained how his show fits into the cultural history of the American Dream.

For those listeners who haven’t seen the show, a word of warning: This podcast includes several spoilers.

Photos from 'Mad Men' season 2
From Mad Men season 2: Left, Jimmy Barrett (Patrick Fischler) in episode 3. Right, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Bobbie Barret (Melinda McGraw), Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff), and Tilden Katz (Nick Toren) in episode 5.
Photos: Carin Baer.