Unorthodox (miniseries)

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Unorthodox Title Card.png
Based onUnorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots
by Deborah Feldman
Written by
Directed byMaria Schrader
Country of origin
  • United States
  • Germany
Original language(s)
No. of episodes4
Producer(s)Alexa Karolinski
Running time52–54 minutes
Production company(s)Studio Airlift
Real Film Berlin Gmbh
Original networkNetflix
Original releaseMarch 26, 2020 (2020-03-26)

Unorthodox is a German-American drama web television miniseries that debuted on Netflix on 26 March 2020. The first Netflix series to be primarily in Yiddish, it is inspired by Deborah Feldman's 2012 autobiography, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. The series garnered eight Primetime Emmy Award nominations, including Outstanding Limited Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series (Shira Haas), Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series (Maria Schrader), and Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series (Anna Winger).


Esty, a 19-year-old Jewish woman, is living unhappily in an arranged marriage among an ultra-Orthodox community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City.[1] She runs away to Berlin, where her estranged mother lives, and tries to navigate a secular life, discovering life outside her community and rejecting all of the beliefs she grew up with.[2] Her husband, who learns that she is pregnant, travels to Berlin with his cousin, by order of their rabbi, to try to find her.[3]



No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal release date
1"Part 1"Maria SchraderAnna WingerMarch 26, 2020 (2020-03-26)

On a Sabbath day, 19-year-old Esty Shapiro, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish married woman, flees her home in the Williamsburg, Brooklyn, section of New York City with only a handful of possessions. She takes a plane to Berlin, where her estranged mother lives, but runs away before they can meet after seeing her mother kiss her female partner. At a coffee shop, Esty meets Robert, a young man ordering many coffees. She helps him take coffee to his friends who are waiting at a nearby music conservatory where they all study. Esty sneaks into their rehearsal, and is deeply moved by their music. After the rehearsal, she hears the group announce they are going to the beach, and asks to come along. At the beach, Esty removes her sheitel as she bathes in the water, revealing her hair.

Back in Williamsburg, Esty's husband, Yanky Shapiro, discovers she is missing, and runs to his family for help.

In a flashback, Esty prepares to marry Yanky, and is visited by her mother who gives her repatriation papers for Berlin, should she ever need them. Esty goes forward with her wedding.
2"Part 2"Maria SchraderAlexa Karolinski
Anna Winger
March 26, 2020 (2020-03-26)

Esty is discovered sleeping overnight in the conservatory. She is encouraged to apply for a hardship scholarship given to talented refugees and musicians in other difficult circumstances. Esty decides to go forward as she plays the piano. When her conservatory friends invite her to dinner, they ask her to perform a piece. Esty is heartbroken when one of them, Yael, tells her that, while she is musical, her playing is merely adequate and nowhere near good enough for the conservatory. She calls home for the first time, but is further distressed when her grandmother hangs up on her without speaking.

Yanky and his cousin Moishe fly to Berlin to try to retrieve Esty, and Yanky is stunned by Moishe's wordly ways.
3"Part 3"Maria SchraderAnna Winger
Alexa Karolinski
March 26, 2020 (2020-03-26)

Esty decides to withdraw her application for the conservatory, but the woman processing her application convinces her to continue with it. She goes to a club to see Yael performing, and is spotted by Moishe, who has succeeded in tracking her down. Esty leaves with Robert before Moishe can confront her. When they return to Robert's apartment, Robert and Esty share an intimate encounter.

In a flashback, Esty's marriage begins to crumble almost as soon as it starts as she cannot have sex with Yanky because she finds it painful. She is eventually told she is suffering from vaginismus. After a particularly angry fight with Yanky, Esty urges him to complete sex with her, despite her horrific pain.
4"Part 4"Maria SchraderAlexa Karolinski
Anna Winger
March 26, 2020 (2020-03-26)
Moishe finally tracks down Esty, and threatens her, telling her she will have nothing if she doesn't return to her husband. In distress, Esty finally contacts her mother, who promises to support her and her child. Esty decides to go through with her audition, switching her discipline from the piano to voice. After her audition, she is approached by Yanky, who begs her to come home with him. Promising to change, Yanky cuts off his payot, but Esty tells him it is too late for them and leaves to start her new life.


The series was inspired by, and is loosely based on, the memoir Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman, who left the Satmar movement, a Hasidic community in New York City.[4] The show has language switching from English to Yiddish to German.[2] The show was written by Anna Winger and Alexa Karolinski, directed by Maria Schrader, produced by Karolinski, and filmed in Berlin.[5] The music academy in Unorthodox is based on the Barenboim-Said Akademie.[6][7] Anna Winger told The Guardian: "There's a real music academy called the Barenboim-Said Akademie where Jews and Muslims play classical music together, like a whole utopia. We were inspired by this idea, as the sort of institution that could only begin in Berlin." [8]

Unorthodox is the first Netflix series to be primarily in Yiddish.[9][10]

Feldman approached writers Winger and Karolinski to turn her autobiography into a television series. They took on the project in part because the story meshed with several topics of mutual interest, especially the challenges of being Jewish in Germany. Winger said that the story "has a kind of doubling back on history", portraying a Jewish character who escapes the "confines of her own life" by returning "to the source of her community's trauma". Because Feldman is a public figure, the writers veered from her life in the fictional Berlin sequences, but based the flashbacks on the book.[11]

An early hire was actor and Yiddish specialist Eli Rosen, who translated the scripts, coached the actors, helped with cultural details, and played the rabbi. The production team took two research trips to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, touring buildings and meeting with the community of Satmar Jews, where part of the story is set. Cast in Germany, Jeff Wilbusch was unique among the four lead actors in being a native Yiddish speaker from the Satmar community (via the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem).[11]

Filming began in New York, then relocated to Berlin, where the production designer built interior sets at CCC Filmstudios[12] that synced with the Brooklyn exteriors. Berlin locations include Potsdamer Platz, which served as the set for the music academy and surroundings, and the Wannsee lake (Großer Wannsee), where, as referenced in the story, the "Final Solution" was planned at a shoreline villa.[13][11]

For the production and costume designers, the project presented the challenge of creating a period film set in the present day, with the main character gradually transitioning between them. The two-day filming of the wedding was a complex undertaking, involving about a hundred extras that had to accurately depict a nuanced cultural celebration. "The joke on the show was that the men required way more hair and make-up than the women", Winger said. Costume designer Justine Seymour obtained some of the clothes in Williamsburg, but not the costly fur hats, shtreimels, which were made by a Hamburg-based theater company, using fake fur, instead of minks.[11]


Critical reception[edit]

The miniseries received critical acclaim upon its release. The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 95%, based on 41 reviews, with an average rating of 8.09/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Unorthodox adapts its source material with extreme care, crafting a series that is at once intimate and urgent, all centered around Shira Haas' captivating performance."[14] On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 85 out of 100, based on 11 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[15]


Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
German Television Awards Best Miniseries Anna Winger, Maria Schrader and Rachel Eggebeen Nominated [16]
Best Actress Shira Haas Nominated
Best Production and Costume Design Silke Fischer (Production) and Justine Seymour (Costume) Won
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Limited Series Anna Winger, Henning Kamm and Alexa Karolinski Pending [17]
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie Shira Haas Pending
Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special Anna Winger (for "Part 1") Pending
Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special Maria Schrader Pending
Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards Outstanding Casting for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special Esther Kling, Vicki Thomson, Maria Rölcke and Cornelia Mareth Nominated
Outstanding Contemporary Costumes Justine Seymour, Simone Kreska and Barbara Schramm (for "Part 2") Pending
Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special (Original Dramatic Score) Antonio Gambale (for "Part 1") Nominated
Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music Antonio Gambale Nominated

Making Unorthodox documentary[edit]

Netflix released a 20-minute documentary, Making Unorthodox, that chronicles the creative process and filming of the miniseries, and discussed the differences between the book and the TV show.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Poniewozik, James (25 March 2020). "Review: 'Unorthodox,' a Stunning Escape From Brooklyn". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  2. ^ a b Wilkinson, Alissa (26 March 2020). "Netflix's Unorthodox movingly captures the pain and power of leaving a strict religious community". Vox.
  3. ^ Keller, Joel (26 March 2020). "Stream It Or Skip It: 'Unorthodox' On Netflix, Where A Hasidic Woman From Brooklyn Finds A New Life In Berlin". Decider. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  4. ^ a b Nicolaou, Elena (26 March 2020). "Netflix's Unorthodox Is Inspired by the True Story of Deborah Feldman". Oprah Magazine. Archived from the original on 13 April 2020. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  5. ^ Kohn, Eric (26 March 2020). "'Unorthodox' Review: Netflix's Yiddish Miniseries Turns Hasidic Rebellion Into a Riveting Thriller". IndieWire. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  6. ^ Abeltshauser, Thomas (2020). "Weg vom Ufer". Der Freitag. No. 13. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  7. ^ Thomas Abeltshauser (22 March 2020). "Maria Schrader: "Ich will den Blick auf die Dinge verändern"". Berliner Morgenpost. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  8. ^ Bramesco. Charles (26 March 2020). "Unorthodox: behind the Deutschland 83 co-creator's new Netflix series". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  9. ^ "Netflix to release show about woman leaving Chassidic lifestyle, mainly in Yiddish". Jewish News Syndicate. 11 March 2020. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  10. ^ Saval, Malina; Saval, Malina (26 March 2020). "'Unorthodox' Star Shira Haas Brings Yiddish, Hassidic Judaism and Contemporary German Culture to Netflix". Variety. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  11. ^ a b c d Marlene Melchior, writer & director (26 March 2020). Making Unorthodox (Video). Netflix. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  12. ^ Tripathi, Prizmi (25 March 2020). "Where Was Unorthodox Filmed? Netflix Filming Locations". The Cinemaholic. Retrieved 31 March 2020.
  13. ^ Fienberg, Daniel (March 25, 2020). "'Unorthodox': TV Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 31 March 2020.
  14. ^ "Unorthodox: Miniseries (2020)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved June 26, 2020.
  15. ^ "Unorthodox". Metacritic. CBS. Retrieved June 26, 2020.
  16. ^ "Preisträger und Nominierte 2020" [Winners and Nominees 2020]. Deutscher Fernsehpreis (in German). Retrieved June 26, 2020.
  17. ^ "2020 Primetime Emmy® Awards – Nomination Press Release" (PDF). Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved July 28, 2020.

External links[edit]