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The first look for My Unorthodox Life seems playfully domestic.
Julia Haart talking to her daughter and son-in-law about bedroom experimentation immediately solidifies herself as a cool yet supportive mom. We are then introduced to Julia Haart, the mogul, the mother, a former member of a strict orthodox Jewish community. The first episode effortlessly shows her current life as she talks about her former life as an orthodox Jew in Monsey, New York. The life she describes in Monsey is almost always followed by a starkly contrasting look into her present life.
“The women in our community were covered head to toe and it was your mother’s responsibility to teach you modesty,” explains Julia early on. The shot cuts to her sitting at a table with her family in her lavish Tribeca home talking about the first time she took off her wig. It is moments like these that help the audience understand where the family is coming from.
This contrast occurs throughout the series but especially in the first episode. It is done in a way to provide context for the rest of the series. Julia explains life in Monsey and growing up as a Yeshivist Jew. She follows this up with how she came to the position she is at right now as the CEO of Elite World Group. Her children each explain the complexities of their current identities and the one they were brought up in.
The producers do a very good job of introducing the Haart family and the different backgrounds they come from. Julia left the community at age forty, she had a married daughter Batsheva, two young kids Miriam and Shlomo, and a seven-year-old, Aron. Batsheva was in the community the longest and Aron still spends half his time in Monsey. For this reason, all the kids have different relationships with their mother as well as with their religion. We see Batsheva wearing pants for the first time and this action is a point of talk and discussion. On the same plane, we see Miriam sporting shorts and pants in a nonchalant manner which is never addressed. Shlomo is dealing with the nuances of dating life for the first time and we see Aron’s radical decision to stop talking to girls. All the children are on different levels and journeys and their interactions are a significant part of the show. How Julia’s own perspective and ideas come together here while also supporting her own and her children’s professional dream makes it a layered and compelling narrative.
The presentation of the casts’ individual stories and Julia’s incredible success story proves to be very engaging. Episodes do tend to get slower towards episode three but the storylines pick up again around episode five to keep it engaging. The entertainment does not rely on any shock moments and there is little drama. Even so, the complex stories of every individual member makes the show gripping. It is not necessarily easy to watch since there are several emotionally charged moments. There are a lot of feelings relating to religion, family, and work. We see Julia come to literal tears as she sees her son Aron falling into a fundamentalist structure, something she fought so hard to escape. We watch Batsheva explaining past feelings of abandonment when her mother left the community. Such moments are tough because they are not exclusive to the Haart family. We see our own relationships within some of the conversations on the show.
Feelings, emotions, and conflict are done well. The family maintains their love and support for one another even when they do not see eye to eye. We see the siblings compete with each other for top spots, we see the mother-daughter tension between Batsheva and Julia, there are minor marital frictions and they are all handled elegantly by the people involved. Not everyone relates to the Haarts’ glamorous lives but their family moments make them familiar. However, we can all relate to Julia and Batsheva as they talk through a difficult period in their relationship and try to shell out those negative feelings in order to move on. We see Julia trying to protect her children while also trying to respect their independence and choices. These important moments are highlighted in the show and often followed by lighter more comic moments.
The format of the show is not meant for too much drama and for this reason, the dramatic moments on the show sometimes feel out of place. This happens when tense music plays while something uncomfortable is happening. They played into the story well but the presentation of such scenes could have been better executed.
The show has many powerful moments and is not afraid to be bold. We see how Julia encourages a model who feels uncomfortable and admits that she has been harassed. Julia’s response and reaction is not underplayed and she continues this train of supporting women and incorporating parts of their identity into this. We see this again when an Elite model is testing her product. Julia sees that the packaging on her product features a white woman even though the model is black. Julia encourages her to change the picture and make herself the face of her product. Julia’s mission of supporting and uplifting other women perhaps stems from her own restrictive past. Her attempts at moving through this by the medium of empowerment is inspiring to say the least. One of the episodes features her trying to help a teenage Monsey resident trying to escape her fundamentalist family. We see ingenuity in Julia as she relates to the teenage girl. We see that connection through the screen and it makes the show that much more real.
While Julia’s family is central to the show, her best friend and colleague, Robert Brotherton, has a significant role in this show. He feels like part of the family and his individual moments are just as compelling. The subplot about Robert contemplating talking to his birth mother is also an understandable scene which is dealt with care and support by all parties involved. Julia’s involvement in Robert’s love life may feel extravagant, but at the heart of it is just a concerned, nosy friend trying to help out. It does not hurt that Robert serves some of the best looks on the show. His fashion sense is unique and his outfits are eye-catching.
Fashion is a big part of the show given that Julia’s professional life is also featured on it. Our favorite fashion moments definitely feature a lot of Robert. The other big fashionista on the show is Batsheva’s husband and former real estate agent, Binyamin (Ben for short). His coordinated, well-fitted outfits have an understated yet captive quality which prompted Julia to encourage him to enter the fashion world. Julia obviously serves amazing outfits but it is her shoes that take the cake over everything else. This makes sense considering she started her fashion career producing shoes.
While the show does not shy away from difficult moments, there are plenty of funny, entertaining, and playful moments that make it a balanced viewing experience. Aron probably provides some of the best one-liners on the show. “Like lunatics. Like normal people,” Aron sarcastically said when Julia mentioned they might have to drive to the airport instead of taking a helicopter. He understands his mom’s position on fundamentalism and to his friend he cheekily comments, “If I had a dollar for every time she said fundamentalism, I’d probably be as rich as my mom.” Aron is still young so it makes sense they have fewer scenes with him, and he lives in Monsey. It would still be fun to see her youngest and hopefully get more one-liners from him.
There are plenty of cute romantic moments on the show as well. We see conservative aspects of Ben’s identity coming out now and then but the way he treats and respects his wife is adorable. We see a conflict between them and how they deal with it in a responsible, communicative manner adding more points to how relatable the show feels. Cute moments between Silvio and Julia add a certain lightness to the show even as some of the content feels heavy.
The episode runs start off well and the storylines of the episodes are mostly done effectively except at the end which often feel abrupt. The end of the series felt especially abrupt and tying up everyone’s stories or at least ending on a more conclusive note could have worked in their benefit. The episode end is signaled by credits and it sometimes feels out of the blue, especially when a compelling conversation has just occurred.
Testimonials on the show are interesting primarily because Julia sometimes does it along with other cast members, mostly Robert. Further, they work more to explain the situation, provide context, and explain what was going on in the cast members’ minds. The delivery of the testimonials neatly ties the scenes together.
All in all, the TV show has minor shortcomings and a lot of potential. Julia and her family’s personal story is interesting as it is and so the show relies on few gimmicks and mostly raw emotion. Some might find the delivery to be slow but the subdued format works well for this particular docusoap. We would like to see more Silvio, Julia’s supportive and adorable husband as well as Ben and his backstory. The emotional quotient is well done, comedic timing is good and interactions relatable.
Riddhima Dave is a senior journalism student at Emerson College. Originally hailing from Mumbai India, she has previously worked at Harper’s Bazaar India and wants to build a career in multimedia journalism. Along with entertainment, she is interested in social issues, fashion and culture.
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