In part 1 of “Unorthodox,” we are introduced to a young girl yearning for family, and what she gets instead is what it appears to be a religion enforced prison.
|Created By||Anna Winger, Alexa Karolinski|
|Directed By||Maria Schrader|
|Written By||Anna Winger|
|Genre(s)||Drama, Young Adult, Biopic, Non-English, Religious|
|Introduced This Episode|
|Esther “Esty”||Shira Haas|
|Esty’s Grandmother||Dina Doronne|
This content contains pertinent spoilers.
Esty, a young girl from Brooklyn, NY, was raised by her aunt Malka, and grandmother after her mother Leah abandoned her as a child. With her doing that, for reasons not revealed in part 1, Esty was raised in the orthodox Jewish faith and held to the traditions. However, after being married a year to a young man named Yanky, she finds herself having to leave the world she knows behind for Berlin. The place her mother went to many years ago.
It’s Like Seeing Behind The Curtain
When it comes to the representation of different faiths, we have increasingly seen those who aren’t Christian gain more prominence. Maybe not in production with notable financial backing, but frequently we see stories about those who are Muslim or Hindu. However, when it comes to Jewish people, specifically Hasidic Jews, they have been relatively absent.
Now, the kind of Jews we’re used to, ranging from Seth Rogen to Seinfeld, those are well known and established. However, Hasidic Jews almost have as much mystery behind their belief and culture as the Church of Scientology or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Meaning, unless you are of their faith and enter their religious housing, your ability to truly know what is going on is mostly third party and not always the best.
Yet, while we have reality television about most of them, and Netflix even had a documentary about Hasidic Jews a while ago, and someone seeking to leave their community, “Unorthodox” is a whole other beast. Perhaps because it is based on a memoir and scripted, and there is always a bigger draw when it comes to scripted content vs. documentaries – since they often have more oomph.
But from the little we see thus far in the patriarchal world of Hasidic Jews, it makes you feel like a kid who got to listen in to the conversations your parents were happening. Especially as you hear about matchmakers and that whole process, and then there is Esty.
May I admit that, even with subtitles, I thought her name was Etsy for the longest? My ignorance aside, There is a reason why so much praise is being given to Shira Haas. For, in an amazing way, just with changing her style, you can see her transformation from a child yearning for the closeness her father and mother wouldn’t give her, to joining this seemingly prominent family, to being on the run. It is in this shift from joy to almost terror, to rediscovering her youth, that captures you. It is what makes you give her husband’s family the side-eye and wonder, is it just them, or a larger issue with the culture and its beliefs?
This isn’t to say “Unorthodox” is a damming expose, but in seeing Esty’s story and seeing her need to escape, it brings up many questions.
Despite A Rather Large Cast To Start With, The First Hour Makes It Pretty Clear Who Everyone Is
I’m one of those people who are hard to please. I neither want to be overwhelmed by a bunch of names or faces, yet I clamor for a hook. This can be a hard thing to do since, when creating something, you don’t know who or what people may connect with. But as we meet Esty’s father, Mordecai, her mother Leah, her aunt Malka, her grandmother, and more, things click.
I would say, besides the visuals, it is also because people on-screen make their presence and purpose known. Miriam and Symcha, Yanky’s parents, you can tell are his parents for they have such presence that of course their son would have an issue holding his head up. Then with Moishe, who seems like a Jewish mobster, the way he talks and handled people, like Esty’s former piano teacher Vivian, it makes you do a double-take.
Heck, I’d even add in the Berlin friends Esty makes from Robert, who seems like a potential crush, Dasia, who might be her new best friend, and Yael, who is a Jew from Israel. Strangely, nearly everyone named is firmly established, and it makes Winger appear to be one of the handful of writers out there who truly know how to write a first episode and utilize an hour for all it is worth.
Continue To Watch? – Watch Till The End
First Impression: Optimistic
While it makes me feel like a nosy kid, there is a sense of excitement that comes from learning about cultures that aren’t necessarily the most open. And while, yes, there are books available, a multitude of online articles, everyone has a different learning style and, for many, it is through entertainment, performances, they prefer to learn and absorb the most easy. And for us, the team who has lovingly crafted “Unorthodox” has cracked the door open and let you listen. All the while, looking back to you, pointing out certain things for you to take note of, to make sure you truly get the information you need to know.
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