Reality TV has shown a remarkable proclivity for trivializing the immigrant experience, from Lifetime’s since-departed “Russian Dolls” to “Shahs of Sunset,” Bravo’s first collaboration with Ryan Seacrest. Frankly, this look at Beverly Hills’ Persian community is about five shows in one — a “Real Housewives” wannabe mashed up with a real estate show component, Beverly Hills fabulousness and a whiff of “Jersey Shore.” Mostly, though, it takes a group with its own unique culture and backstory and homogenizes them into another posse of platitude-spouting posers a little too eager for their closeups.
What emerges is actually something of a shame, since there is an interesting backstory to those who fled Iran and, despite being refugees, created thriving enterprises in the U.S. Of course, that show would focus on the parents of this group, instead of their not-particularly-interesting thirtysomething kids, and pose certain demographic challenges.
One of the men here insists he’s not a TPG — “Typical Persian Guy” — but the operative expression should be PPP, or “Privileged Pampered Progeny.”
The various players certainly work hard at standing out, starting with Reza Farahan, a gay real-estate agent; artist Asa Soltan Rahmati, who admits to a love-hate relationship with her community; and Golnesa “GG” Gharachedaghi, a prototypical spoiled-princess type who drops such gems as, “I don’t threaten. I take action,” and, “I don’t like ants, and I don’t like ugly people.”
In the premiere, one sees various aspects of Persian culture, including intrusive parents, pressure to marry within and leveraging real estate to build wealth and finance a flamboyant lifestyle.
Invariably, though, the series keeps retreating to familiar tropes of the docu-soap genre, from a contentious dinner to a pool party that produces more finger-wagging verbal pugilism.
It’s actually about time Seacrest and Bravo got together, since both have done quite well pushing a brand of programs built around wealthy one-percenters just obnoxious enough to produce cult followings, and hence be profitable by cable standards. Yet initially, anyway, adhering to that narrow formula means “Shahs” doesn’t approach the ambition of TLC’s “All American Muslim” in capturing what it’s like to hail from the Middle East in a post-9/11 America.
Instead, we get Reza contemptuously eyeing a pal’s date and sniffing that the woman “looks like she came from a mail-order bride catalog of Russian prostitutes.” Although his real-estate acumen could be the requisite reality-TV bluster, Bravo and Seacrest should seriously consider giving this guy a job in series development.