Sects and the city: `Amish’ falls to temptations of reality-show stereotypes

UPN takes the concept of rudeness to new levels with the two-hour debut of “Amish in the City,” tonight at 8 on WSBK (Ch. 38).

When six young urban stereotypes – including the mincing gay guy, the macho frat boy and the sassy black girl – are thrown together in a swanky crib in Los Angeles, they have no idea that five more roommates are set to arrive – and Amish, no less!

With all but one dressed in full regalia, the Amish roll slo-mo up the driveway in “Reservoir Dogs”-style to the tune of oddly ominous guitar rock. Although with their bonnets, suspenders and belief in pacifism, who they are supposed to threaten is unclear.

Then the city kids – including Nick, a busboy from the Hub – see them through the front door. With the exception of Kevan, the sole city kid with an open mind, they treat the newcomers with stunningly bitter disdain. That’s just the beginning of what is irritating about “Amish in the City.”

The show is actually built on a fascinating premise, the Amish rite of rumspringa. The Amish are Anabaptists who only baptize their members as adults who have chosen their faith. To make an informed choice, many young Amish take a rumspringa when they come of age (typically at 16). This is a time when they are permitted to leave their cloistered rural communities and explore what the Amish call the English world. If they choose to return, they are baptized into the Amish church. If they choose the outside world, they may be shunned forever by their family and friends.

”Amish in the City” has its roots in and shares producers with the 2002 documentary “Devil’s Playground,” which also examined rumspringa. By most accounts, the film was a bittersweet look at kids moving just a few miles from home, living in trailer parks and, due to poverty and temptation, getting caught up in drugs and other social ills.

The fresh premise and documentary roots only contribute to the disappointment in the predictability of this show. Instead of natural experiences, the Amish kids get caught up in the reality show staples of hot tubs, glamorous make-overs and petty infighting. And its not just that the city roommates – and by extension some viewers – lazily view the Amish kids as butter-churning, barn-raising, electricity-shunning rubes with an eighth-grade education who must be made over. It’s how the Amish youths play up their shock to the camera and engage in typical, tired reality drama.

Of the few touching moments in the first few episodes, most involve the Amish kids’ long list of firsts, including trips to the beach, sitting in a hot tub and seeing a parking meter.

Throw in Ariel, the wacky vegan who thinks cows are from outer space, and you have moments that may have viewers coming back. But unless there are substantially more, “Amish in the City” should be shunned.

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