The mere title “Amish Mafia” sounds like parody, a la those “Saturday Night Live” sketches from the final 30 minutes. And given perhaps the most remarkable disclaimer ever — the program features dramatic reenactments “based on eyewitness accounts, testimonials and the legend of the Amish Mafia” — one might rightfully view this as high camp as opposed to anything remotely approaching reality. By that measure, sister network Discovery’s latest attempt to exploit the non-TV-watching Amish is either a shark-jumping example of structured reality hitting its nadir, or in its brazenness, the screwball comedy of 2012.
Seriously, a so-called reality show “based on legend?” What’s next, “Bigfoot Bada-Bing?” “Chupacabra Cosa Nostra?”
“Amish Mafia” is being previewed before shifting to its regular Wednesday slot, a few days after TLC introduces another new hour, “Sin City Rules,” which might as well be called “Real Housewives of Las Vegas.” In fact, the show’s producer, Evolution Media, is already responsible for two installments in the Bravo franchise, with the only twist here being not everyone’s a housewife, and almost nothing (especially the cleavage) looks particularly real.
Still, it’s “Mafia” that breaks ground, mostly by burrowing through the soil into the murky semi-scripted depths below.
Picture Amish enforcers as self-appointed arbiters of justice, exacting vengeance on behalf of members of their community. On the not-so-good side, they also leverage others’ indiscretions (in the premiere, an elder is supposedly caught frequenting prostitutes) to expand their power.
At the center of it all is an awkward lug named Lebanon Levi, who travels around with scowling sidekicks who might as well be named Silvio, Paulie and Big Pussy. In the course of doing business, tough-sounding direct-to-camera interviews are given, faces are obscured to protect the innocent and the music swells like an old “Shaft” movie.
The series comes from the producers of TLC’s “Breaking Amish,” a show that has been a ratings hit while prompting questions about the extent of its fictional staging. Yet whatever that series’ excesses, they pale next to the artifice in this follow-up, where Amish thugs have no qualms about tooling around in a Cadillac (the mind boggles at the product-placement opportunities).
Compared with “Amish Mafia,” “Sin City Rules” (which, naturally, features a gal who married into the mob) is relatively restrained, with the usual cat-fighting drama. One outgoing sort, Lana, likes to boast about her luxurious lifestyle by saying, “I am God,” before later accusing a fellow woman in Vegas’ fast lane, Alicia, of sleeping with married men.
The only real shock, frankly, is that the expression “dirty whore” doesn’t get shouted until the “This season on” tease.
TLC and Discovery has rolled out a steady menu of new programs this month, apparently following a counterprogramming approach to reruns and saccharine holiday fare.
As a scheduling strategy, it might very well work. In terms of the bar on reality-TV standards, though, “Amish Mafia,” in particular, effortlessly limbos beneath it.