Life & Culture

Television review: My Unorthodox Life

The Netflix show about the former Charedi housewife Julia Haart and her successful business career leaves Josh Howie cold


My Unorthodox Life: Season 1. Episode 5, Secular in the City. Pictured: Julia Haart c. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021

I don’t want to be paranoid, but I think the Netflix algorithms have sussed out I’m Jewish. A few series of Shtisel and now my Recommended page resembles a veritable who’s-Jew of entertainment. And recently scrolling, I noticed a new programme snuggled among its semitic brethren of Fauda, Unorthodox and Uncut Gems.

My Unorthodox Life is a reality show about Julia Haart, formerly Hendler, who in her early forties left her husband and Charedi community in New York to become a successful designer and businesswoman, and now runs a huge media conglomerate Elite World Group. You can imagine the TV commissioners drooling during the pitch meeting, “It’s Unorthodox meets The Devil Wears Prada meets Keeping Up With the Kardashians!” Though the show it actually most closely resembles is The Osbornes.

Strong Jewish matriarch? Check. Spoilt but likeable enough kids? Check. Crimes against interior decoration that can be committed only by the super rich? Check. Same tired format of obviously constructed ‘plot’ points intersected by exposition talking heads? Check check check. The problem is, it’s been two decades since The Osbornes aired and even while it was still on air that format became massively clichéd. Now, and devoid of Ozzy’s unpredictability and Sharon’s wit, there’s little here that can bring My Unorthodox Life to life.

Thus the producers are forced to lean heavily into the supposed tension between the family’s old religious and new secular lives, giving us in the first episode a manufactured debate about women wearing jeans between the supposedly still quite religious eldest daughter and her supposedly more religious husband, and the supposedly apostate Julia. But it’s difficult to care about any supposed modesty when in every other shot the daughter’s in a miniskirt, the husband films a scene topless in bed and his kippah appears and disappears through the series as though the continuity supervisor only occasionally popped by the set. And when the big family “argument” does happen, it’s uncommented that the couple are both wearing trousers anyway.

The contradictions don’t stop there, with Julia herself opining that every low-cut top is a sign of freedom, while later lamenting how everything’s over-sexualised, during a fitting for her lingerie line. The second episode’s set piece is her and her number two (channelling the mother and interior designer from Beetlejuice) taking a scandalous trip to an Orthodox supermarket. Except it’s not very scandalous as everyone just gets on with their shopping, probably more traumatised by the overpriced kosher food.

That’s not to say the show hasn’t kicked up a bit of a stink among online Charedim, surely a contradiction in itself? Admittedly Julia Haart’s constant dismissal of all trappings of her former life as fundamentalism is somewhat grating, and for once it might be nice to see a positive media portrayal of a lifestyle that brings meaning to many, but she was obviously very unhappy in that world, and understandably lashes out at it. She’s also an obviously impressive person with an interesting story, but that’s not enough to ensure an impressive or interesting TV show. Modern day reality television can be elevated to sublime entertainment with something like Married At First Sight Australia. Comparatively though this show is just, too orthodox.


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