Just when I think “Amish TV” might be cooling down, a new show pops up. I imagine at some point we’ll be seeing a full-fledged network sitcom or drama series. For now there is another cable reality program on deck to premiere next month.
In a few weeks the TLC network will be rolling out “Breaking Amish”, which basically looks to be an “Amish in the City” redux. The show flips coasts with four Amish and one Mennonite going to New York City (Amish in the City was set in LA). Even the show’s promo copy recalls the hook of the 2004 series: “Ultimately, they will make the biggest decision of their lives — to remain Amish and Mennonite or become “English” — and face the consequence of being shunned by those closest to them.”
The tension in that idea was problematic for a couple of reasons. Dirk Eitzen discusses some of the issues in “Hollywood Rumspringa: Amish in the City” in The Amish and the Media. For one there’s no hard and reality-show-friendly deadline for joining the church. Also, if you decide to go on television for a show like this, how likely are you to join anyway? I guess if we ignore, or don’t understand the first concept, and suspend disbelief enough to let the second operate, you can gin up some sort of dramatic tension over the course of a series.
Eitzen observes that though people protested over Amish in the City, fearing it would be degrading and exploitative, in the end the Amish actually come off looking quite good (as he writes: “the Amish kids are open-minded, resourceful, and adaptable throughout. The city kids are the ones who seem parochial.” p. 141)
I’m not sure how this new show will stack up in that department. From what I’ve seen it does seem edgier. By early accounts “Breaking Amish” includes the expected fish-out-of-water scenarios (Amish girl struggling with elevator; Amish kids getting stared at on street) with a fair bit of rude behavior mixed in. Hopefully no one does anything so embarrassing that they won’t be able to look back five years from now without cringing. After watching the show’s promo trailer I am afraid that may be a lot to hope for.
I occasionally hear from people interested in filming programs on the Amish. But in the past few weeks I’ve had a relative flurry of emails on potential shows spanning a range of Amish-related topics. Coincidence or a sign of things to come?