Reality Bites: Breaking Amish

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

"Nah, come on man; some straight like you, giant stick up his ass, all of a sudden at age - what - 60? He's just going to break bad?" - Jesse Pinkman, Breaking Bad

The title of this show is a bit misleading. One doesn't just "break Amish," though I suppose one can join the ranks of the Anabaptists voluntarily. Breaking Amish in this case refers to the decision by five young Amish/Mennonites to leave the farm and live in New York City. Past episodes have probably explained how a bunch of agrarian-raised youths have the money to goof around in Manhattan day in and day out, or maybe they haven't. Whatever, this thing isn't going to write itself.

It's apparent early on that Kate is more or less the central figure. The 21-year-old looks quite a bit like Mad Men's Peggy Olson, and in addition to pursuing a modeling career (after coming from a background that forbids makeup and hair styling, to say nothing of photographs), she's a lousy drunk. That always makes for good TV.

Jeremiah describes himself as an "Amish rebel," which is probably the easiest thing in the world to qualify for ("I'm using a rotary phone! Fuck you, Dad!"). He's 32, which honeslty makes him kind of pathetic. Think about those guys ten years out of school who still hang out in college bars. Bingo.

Twenty-year-old Rebecca and 22-year-old Abe are the show's sole couple, which has a certain symmetry. You can see the two together, in that they're basically a younger version of Grant Wood's American Gothic, only somehow less humorous.

Honestly, the most interesting person on the show is Sabrina. Now 25, she was adopted by a Mennonite couple after being abandoned by her birth parents. Central to the episode I watched was her hiring a private detective to find the drug addicts who left her in a trash can after she was born. I know, who *wouldn't* want to reconnect with awesome people like that? The PI gives her the good news/bad news: Mom died in 2005, but dad is still around and "excited" to meet her. My advice? Check his house for oversized Dumpsters.

You'll be happy to know that the Amish are just as prone to drama queening as the rest of us, which is kind of comforting. Again, these kids (and Jeremiah) have "jobs" in the sense that the cast of The Real World did, post-season 3 or so. Jeremiah wants to be a cab driver, Kate had her modeling, and...I never got the sense of what the other three are doing, aside from binge drinking and watching TV. They'd make great college freshmen.

The big reveal of this episode was Kate's DUI. Wait, how the hell did that happen? In Florida, no less? I did some further research (read the Wikipedia entry), which I totally resent, by the way, and apparently there are some questions about just how Amish these kids are. I should be overcome with outrage, I suppose (TV HAS LIED TO ME?!?!), but it's probably better this way. Have you seen those rumspringa documentaries? If they yanked honest-to-English Amish kids out of their homes and plopped them down in New York City, they'd be dead in 24 hours, or however long it took them to accidentally get stuck in Penn Station after dark.

Each scene is preceded by a relevant Biblical passage (the revelation about Kate's DUI is preceded by Isaiah 24:9 -- "Strong drink shall be bitter to them that drink it"), the better to prepare you for subsequent horrors. That is, if sending the five to the Museum of Sex counts ("So this is a condom"). Oh look, a penis attached to a bicycle! Fake boobs! Throwing a bunch of virgins into the MoS is an easy gag, but nobody reveals a previously undisclosed propensity for sex mania. The only real takeaway is that Kate is something of a basket case: She doesn't eat enough, because of her modeling gig, and so gets completely 'faced every time she drinks. Because nobody has seen a bad drunk on reality TV before.

Abe gets quite the reaction from the Manhattan jewelers when he asks for "something in the $300 range." Jeremiah -- who has apparently been married before -- advises caution. I'd like to get his ex-wife's opinion. Abe buys a ring anyway (lest we forget, jewelry is a big no-no among the Amish), but the proposal has to wait for a later episode. Possibly because Rebecca's busy interviewing for a dog-walking job. And for someone who grew up on a farm, she doesn't exhibit a lot of pioneer spirit when it comes to picking up poop.

We also get some manufactured conflict between Jeremiah and Sabrina, whom the former accuses of being a "slut" because she has the temerity to text other dudes. Quite a laugh coming from the thirtysomething with a new-found addiction to lap dances. At least texts don't cost $25 a pop.

Finally, Kate goes on her photo shoot. Of everyone involved, she's the only one who seems likely to stick out in the English world (depending on how well Sabrina's reunion with dear old dumpster dad goes). And with one DUI already, plus a dangerous tendency to starve herself and lapse into semi-depression over her appearance, she's going to fit right in.

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