The Orthodox Jersey Shore

When Frum Satire showed me In Over Our Heads — billed as “the first unscripted Jewish reality television series” — my knee-jerk reaction was, is it good for Orthodox Jews? The first episode followed women on a trip to the mikveh, a bath used for, uh, spiritual cleanliness (or, “ending the period of not having sex and transitioning into having sex,” as one character puts it).

The second episode is less abrasively sex-centric, but manages to be even more sexual: Our heroes leave their religious community for the night, go into the city, and stay up all night at a dance club.

The verdict’s still out. When new, odd Orthodox articles or stories or videos come out, I get a surge of overprotectiveness, because if you’re Orthodox, every non-Orthodox person you meet over the next month will make all sorts of sweeping generalizations that your life is exactly like the thing they saw on YouTube. (If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not — you won’t believe how many people asked me which Hasidic folk song Lady Gaga stole the hook to “Bad Romance” from.)

The show has its stronger and weaker moments. I’d be the last person to argue that dancing isn’t a form of spirituality, but I cringe watching one Orthodox character struggle to defend her spiritual practice, eyelids fluttering from being up all night while scarfing down coffee, while sitting next to some non-Orthodox guy who keeps cutting her off and cursing at her. “A lot of people are afraid of what’s inside them and don’t express it,” she says. “But if you express it, then you’re free.” On the other hand, it’s flippin’ reality TV. Of course these people aren’t at their most coherent state.

The series has some moments of blinding clarity, and they’ve picked strong, smart, and likeable characters. We want to know these people. In some way, we do know them. Not just those of us who have friends, family, or who’ve even been those kids sneaking out at night from Monsey to the city, but for all of us who’ve been different.

I think I will keep watching In Over Our Heads, even if I’m not totally with it yet. It feels like we’re watching a rehearsal for something. I’m not sure what it is yet — they might not know either, either the producers or the stars — but I’m excited to see it when it happens.

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