Apparently, “Jersey Shore’s” crimes against culture will include unleashing a torrent of heavily staged reality programs steeped in me-too ethnic stereotyping. Enter “Russian Dolls,” which has the distinction of show-casing the worst Russian accents since the early Bond movies, or back when Boris and Natasha began trying to kill moose and squirrel. Set in Brighton Beach — described by residents as “One square mile of Brooklyn jam-packed with crazy Russians” — it’s a Vodka-infused taste of Lifetime’s desperation to become hipper and get noticed. Will it work? Probably nyet.
Part of the initial problem with “Dolls” is there’s no real focus to it. The half-hour premiere flits all over the place, introducing so many thickly accented personalities it’s tough to keep track. Along the way, there’s time for a bikini-clad excursion into a hot tub, a grandma “pageant,” and a date where a 23-year-old woman debates whether to break up with a guy because he’s not Russian and “time’s running out” on giving her mother the 100%-Russian grandkids she wants.
Although the participants clearly understand what’s expected of them (witness the brawl in the “This season on” tease), the first bite is all seasoning and no meat. Moreover, the series lacks the sort of connective tissue that provides at least a modicum of narrative coherence to the “Real Housewives” franchise, or any number of programs that have beaten “Dolls” to the punch. (Lifetime is pairing the series with a second half-hour, “Picker Sisters,” devoted to interior design, another well-worn — bordering on worn out — genre.)
Even the show’s name (it was originally pitched as “Brighton Beach”) reflects Lifetime’s desire to put a young-female stamp on the proceedings that doesn’t really exist, amid the futile search for what the New Yorker accurately described as “casting the Russian Snooki.” Instead, it’s a multigenerational experience, such as when a married woman grouses and rolls her eyes throughout the undignified granny pageant, wincing as her mother-in-law performs a belly dance.
“It’s like a never-ending torture,” she groans.
Fortunately, the tedium of “Dolls” is over in a half-hour.