Even a critic has to grudgingly admire TLC’s unwavering devotion to the fringes of society. If only its take wasn’t consistently of the carnie-attraction variety. Enter “Breaking Amish,” a show devoted to a seemingly promising topic — young Amish who choose to break with their faith and explore life in New York — that hits all the expected notes too hard, in the most obvious ways. The only consolation one can derive from the exercise is that unlike most other cultural minorities featured on the network, devout Amish can at least be counted on not to watch.
The young Amish featured have an awkward, earnest quality to them, at least to a media-savvy audience, which heightens the sense their wide-eyed wonder. Perhaps because they haven’t spent their youths studying how to behave on reality TV, they come across as slightly more natural and sincere, which only makes the tone and sense of exploitation queasier.
Most of them express understandable longings — talking about wanting to have fun, drive a car, maybe get drunk. One of them even yearns to strip off those flesh-covering frocks and try modeling; she’s shown in the “This season on” tease sporting a bikini.
Since Amish are reluctant even to be filmed (a restriction that nearly crippled a much more serious PBS “American Experience” documentary), there’s not much that can be done to illustrate the generational tension. So the premiere resorts to stale tactics like a literal thunderclap when one of the girls says, “I got in trouble.”
With the premiere focusing on introductions, most of the drama resides in the preview of future episodes, which depict the Amish unleashed in the big city — patronizing strip clubs, baring skin and mostly doing a lot of crying.
At this point, the TLC formula is pretty familiar, and “Breaking Amish” takes its rightful place alongside oddities like “Sister Wives” and “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding.”
All told, it’s the sort of lineup that provides a genuine incentive to save electricity by leaving the TV off, whether Amish or not.