By Lanford Beard
April 22, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT
Will Hart

Tonight marks the fourth season premiere of The Real Housewives of New Jersey. The reality show has introduced us to some of the mid-Atlantic’s most colorful characters, from fiercely protective big sister and mother Caroline Manzo to Fabulicious! table flipper Teresa Giudice (still a contender on this season of The Celebrity Apprentice) and even Cop Without a Badge heroine Danielle Staub. But these ladies aren’t all that Jersey has to offer. The Garden State has been fertile ground for great fictional characters in pop culture. Below, we run down five of our favorite Jersey-born-and-bred characters. (Sorry, Shore fans! Snooki doesn’t technically count as a fictional character.)

Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri

The Sopranos

You were expecting me to say Tony Soprano, weren’t you? Though James Gandolfini’s mob boss will go down among the greats, Paulie (Tony Sirico) provided a much-needed context for The Sopranos‘ narrative. In a world driven by paranoia and the need for control, what better real-world proxy could there be than Paulie’s frequently mentioned OCD? Despite his propensity to provide the comic relief for his over-the-top behavior, Paulie was, in some ways, the most fully fleshed-out character on The Sopranos. (Don’t agree? Check out this (NSFW) scene.) You might not necessarily have liked Paulie, but you got him. Also? That hair!

Enoch “Nucky” Thompson

Boardwalk Empire

Keeping it in the family, so to speak, Boardwalk Empire‘s Enoch Thompson (Steve Buscemi) has only gotten better with time. As season 2 of Boardwalk inarguably proved, Nucky may be occasionally down, but he is never out. Atlantic City’s former treasurer walks a constant tightrope between his humanity and his calculating, ruthless quest for influence. Nucky has a heart, he simply chooses to ignore it sometimes. Just ask Jimmy Darmody. Oh wait, you can’t.

Indiana Jones

Princeton’s favorite son has it all: Good looks, impressive deductive skills, an adventurous spirit, a quick wit, and, oh yeah, a terrible phobia of snakes. Indy (Harrison Ford) hardly needs any explanation. He’s an icon, a boulder-evader, a Nazi-thwarter, and a heck of a good time. Plus, the man knows how to wear a jaunty cap and wield a lasso.

Leonard Hofstadter

The Big Bang Theory

Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) may get most of the attention thanks to his unstoppable eccentricity, but its Leonard (Johnny Galecki) who keeps the Big Bang gang grounded. Despite his intimidating brilliance (he got his Ph.D. at 24 years old!), Leonard is not so caught up in his own head that he doesn’t want to branch out from the CalTech nerd herd — as long as branching out doesn’t involve lactose. Move over Penny: I can’t think of anyone with whom I’d rather play Klingon Boggle.

Irene Adler

Sherlock Holmes

This Housewives-inspired list wouldn’t be complete without at least one powerful lady. Sherlock Holmes’ female foil (played by Rachel McAdams in Guy Richie’s 2009 interpretation) is scrappy, sassy, and formidable. Even without her bewitching looks, Irene has the brains to get herself out of any sticky situation. As we approach what ‘s sure to be another knock-down-drag-out season on RHONJ, these ladies could all take a few tips from Irene on how to fight (or flee) their battles.

Who’s your favorite Jersey character, PopWatchers?

Read more:

‘The Real Housewives of New Jersey’ Recaps and Episode Guide

Contrarian Corner: Money can’t buy me class, but it can buy a whole lot of ‘Real Housewives’ music

‘Real Housewives of New Jersey’ husband Joe Giudice indicted