"Breaking Amish" often intersperses biblical passages between scenes of four young Amish adults and one young Mennonite woman twirling between their whirlwind new life in New York and their own seemingly simpler, homespun roots.
As the alternately frustrating and fascinating TLC reality show ends its inaugural season Sunday, these words of prayer come to mind: "Lead us not into temptation."
The line from “The Lord’s Prayer” is appropriate for both the characters and the audience. As much we feel we – and the show's five "stars" – are being steered astray at times, we're having a difficult time shunning "Breaking Amish."
The show undeniably brims with compelling, seemingly genuine moments: farm boy Abe's scenes with his stern, but loving mother and siblings are riveting, giving us a rare glimpse into an unfamiliar domestic world. We also see the young characters thrust into worlds they’ve never experienced: sweethearts Abe and Rebecca's first visit to a beach, perhaps our favorite segment of the series, captures their sheer childlike joy as they frolic through the sand and waves at Coney Island.
There also are sobering images of apparently very real heartbreak: parents slamming doors in the faces of their tradition-flouting children. Aspiring model Kate's friends fleeing when she approaches their volleyball game. Rebecca returning home to find her grandparents moved, apparently out of shame brought on by her spurning of Amish ways.
But we also get the feeling at times that we're being played – "Breaking Amish," after all, isn't a pure documentary that follows people through their ordinary lives.
The producers, in a video on the TLC site, said they gave the cast members a “small stipend” to cover housing, and said all had saved considerable sums working before embarking on their big adventure in the land of the “English.” Still, these five largely unsophisticated unknowns presumably had help arranging their packed to-do list: The nights out, the detective enlisted to track down Mennonite misfit Sabrina's birth parents and last week's uncomfortably bawdy bachelor/bachelorette party in Atlantic City for Abe and Rebecca, to name a few TV friendly activities.
Reports have suggested some of the cast members are hiding very non-typical – at least for Amish and Mennonite folks – pasts. The revelation of Rebecca's divorce surfaced with an aura of forced soap opera-like drama. Goofy wannabe cool dude Jeremiah's attempts to stir up mischief – apparently concocting a plan to convince emotionally fragile Kate she accused Sabrina of witchcraft in a wee-hours rant – come off as contrived.
The six weeks the quintet spent in New York echoes of “The Real World.” But in some respects, these young people from sheltered upbringings are more like the audacious “Jersey Shore" crew – they're both insular bunches, and much of the drama derives from people of similar backgrounds reacting differently to new, close surroundings. As much as they might bicker, they’re bonded by a shared experience destined to impact their lives long after the cameras disappear.
Not that the cameras are leaving anytime soon. Like “Jersey Shore,” we’re in for a talk show-style reunion/post-mortem after Sunday’s finale. Resisting the temptation to watch is futile. In the meantime, check out a promotional video below:
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Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.