Social Distancing and Jewish TV: ‘Unorthodox’ and ‘Hunters’
During time in self-imposed quarantine have had the opportunity to watch more TV than usual. I watched two particularly Jewish TV shows this past weekend.
First, Unorthodox, an outstanding Netflix original movie based upon the Deborah Feldman book Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. It was very enjoyable, fast moving four-episode program, which followed the story of Esty — played by Israeli actress Shira Haas of Shtisel fame — who plays a 19 year old ultra-Orthodox woman who flees her Williamsburg, Brooklyn, community and her husband for Berlin in an effort to escape her community and Hasidic life.
She becomes a pianist and meets a group of young artists in a radical change from her past life. There’s plenty of drama (mostly in Yiddish) as her husband and her cousin are sent by their rabbi to threaten her to come home. The actors are excellent and the program shows very emotional struggles for this woman who is seeking “freedom” as she sees it — and the show goes back and forth between past and present.
Unorthodox is emotional, strong, and painful at times. It details Esty’s “outcast” role in the Hasidic community, and adapting as an outsider among her new friends in the music community in Germany. Each of the four episodes build to a very emotional final scene where her husband cuts off his payes in a desire to have her return to Brooklyn with him (she doesn’t). Esty is scared and brave, and the show is powerful. It’s worthwhile TV and enjoyable — kudos to Netflix for this well-done original production.
I also watched Hunters on Amazon Prime — a show about a group of Jews hunting down Nazis in the 1970s that stars Al Pacino as the head of the ragtag gang of hunters, and centers on Operation Paperclip, the American government’s recruitment effort after World War II of German scientists, engineers, and technicians — including many Nazis — to try and ensure these people went to the US rather than the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Throughout ten episodes we get to know the characters who hunt down Nazis trying to establish a fourth Reich in modern-day America, including a young Jew, Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), a pair of Holocaust survivors, and others. While the plot is interesting, it often goes off target on weird tangents, odd narratives, and continued kitschy Jewish themes. If it wasn’t for the fact I was locked indoors due to the quarantine, I wouldn’t recommend it.