Thursday, August 26, 2004

A Dramatic Failure: Amish In The City - 1x05 "You Like It, You Love It, You Want Some More Of It"

The bottom of Amish has fallen out something fast, the problem being that the producers don't seem able (or interested in?) to tell a decent story. Even within a single episode, I've been having difficulties picking up on a strong narrative arc, instead treating the show as a video diary.

More or less, the last couple episodes have been of the "This happened, and then that happened, and then the other thing happened" -- the thing lacking here being consequences. Relationships aren't built up strongly, characterizations are inconsistent (taking Kevan as an example: while some would say that we're being shown different aspects of his character -- not a bad idea, usually -- the method that Amish's producers use omits cohesion, leaving us with at best a schizophrenic portrayal of Kevan). There needs to be set-up and pay-off, the big So What, not one posh dinner or XTREME excursion after another. Instead, the producers show us an Amish saying, "I'd never done this before, but I'm going to try it all the way," and then his or her conclusion, "It was awesome!" Yes, it presents the Amish as open-minded to a fault in contrast to their citified counterparts, but at the same time, it's the same story offered for five weeks straight. Whither development?

Running around in circles, the show has barely focused on the conflicts between the Amish and English beyond a superficial level, settling for explaining away the differences between the two as a matter of, say, hygiene. In this manner, the show is extremely insular -- it appears that the root of most if not all of the conflicts is due to the house as a melting pot; 10 people living together will always get on each other's nerves. The examination, when present, of cultural schisms is often inert, and gives off the air that the series did not have goals in mind beyond a quick buck.

While the show tries to keep in sight the ostensibly pivotal decision that the Amish are ultimately going to make (whether to return to their old communities or stay in the city), petty arguments (e.g. who didn't clean what) often subsume these deliberations; if the aim of the show's creators wasn't reality drama, then neither is it documentary.

1 comment:

Leee said...

I've switched over to Blogger's built-in comments feature, so pasting the previous comment here:

i was sad to hear they were making a t.v. 'reality' series out of the amish's rumspringa. you've probably heard this before, but if you want a realer presentation of what it's all about, there's the documentary "devil's playground." very interesting.

not that i've seen the series. i don't have a t.v. ... but it doesn't sound that great, from what you say.

vermont girl

And now a response: as it turns out, I was a little quick in condemning the series. While the series still has noticeable narrative flaws, the last episode did not exhibit the same ADD storytelling that drove me nuts for the last couple weeks. The latest episode had the classic build-up/release of tension spread over the course of the entire episode, for instance.

As to the nature of the show, especially in contrast to a documentary (which I'll admit to not having seen), the comparison is a little beside the point. Surely, the tv series isn't going to come close to a documentary in a whole bunch of aspects, granted, but its aims are different, humbler, if you will.

And putting scare quotes around the reality in reality tv? Lately, there's a tacit understanding between the producers of such shows and their viewers that the reality being presented is in name only. It's like American "foot"ball; this misnomers have passed on to convention.