Relax. No Amish were harmed in the making of this show.
UPN’s “Amish in the City,” filmed and prepped to air in secret after members of Congress expressed outrage at the pitch, gives the troubled network a second reality guilty pleasure alongside “America’s Next Top Model.”
The fear at the outset was that the Amish kids would be portrayed as total rubes, mocked for their modesty, exploited and degraded. Casting from farms in the Midwest, five well-scrubbed Amish in their late teens and early 20s head to Los Angeles to see what kind of trouble La-La Land holds.
The joke’s on us. These kids may be sheltered, but they are by no means naive and they’re more than willing to stick up for themselves. They smoke, they cuss, they wear miniskirts — and, yes, digital watches.
The Amish kids selected for the show are all in the midst of rumspringa, a period when young adults are allowed to behave in any manner they choose — a fling for as many years as it takes to determine if they should choose to adopt their devout lifestyle permanently.
The resulting show is like watching MTV’s “The Real World” — with the occasional revelation that some of the roommates have never seen a parking meter before. It’s actually kind of sweet.
The only cringing generated by the show comes from the six total jackass city kids the Amish are forced to live with in the mansion. From the vegan who think cows are extraterrestrials to the flamboyantly gay club promoter, they’re straight out of reality-show central casting — except quite possibly more moronic.
“We just thought it was very retro,” says one citified roomie upon noticing the Amish decorative touches — including a horse-and-buggy mural — in their house. Another, upon meeting her new quaintly dressed roommates, asks: “Are you guys really committed to this Amish thing?”
Sigh. It’s enough to make anyone run screaming back to the farm, but the Amish are good sports about it. Much of the conflict between the two groups seems manufactured (arguments over dirty dishes get extended to a ludicrous degree, and a drowning scare is so obviously reshot that it’s hard to tell what really went on). The temptation of the Amish kids is no more risque than seeing the L.A. skyline, going to the beach and eating sushi.
Between the halfwit commentary of the city kids and the “Will they or won’t they go Hollywood?” question facing the Amish, there is enough entertainment value to keep viewers hooked for the run of the show. Some might decry the lack of titillation as boring, but hey, sometimes that’s life in the big city.
Exec producer Steven Cantor also produced docu “Devil’s Playground,” which examines the process of rumspringa in greater detail and shows how dangerously hedonistic the rite can be. Pic aired on Cinemax in 2002.