Next Month On UPN: Last Zoroastrian Standing!
With her tumescent lips, fake breasts, Lady Godiva hair, and sun-toughened hide, Mafia principessa Victoria Gotti looks like Long Island's brusque reply to Donatella Versace. But don't expect Gotti to fall off the wagon anytime soon; she's got steely resolve to spare. Whether hectoring her sons Carmine and John for their interest in tattoos or tackling her non-job as a writer for Star magazine, Gotti is one tough biscotti.
While watching the most recent episode of Growing Up Gotti on A&E the other night, I find myself cringing in terror when John returns freshly inked from the local tattoo shop. Before long, he's incurring the Medea-like rage of his cruel plastic mommy. Don't hurt the boy! I shout at the television as Gotti's eyes flash. No wounds are inflicted, but alas, Gotti's words sting like the brambles encircling young John's crucifix tattoo.
Family clashes notwithstanding, the main event in this episode concerns Gotti's quest for a youthful male companion. When two muscle-bound landscapers-cum-models visit the Star's Boca Raton offices, Gotti practically dissolves into a puddle of saline, MAC cosmetics, and botulism toxin. Gotti quickly scores the boys' digits under the pretense of having them prune her shrubbery. "I have a big house," she boasts in a Penny Marshall croak. "I need some help with my bush area." Hi-yo!
The models show up at Gotti's white McMansion, but they're more interested in playing basketball with Gotti's medallion-draped sons than attending to her bushes. (FYI: The Gotti boys get their asses served on the court. Good thing, because these swaggering little bastards could stand to be knocked down a peg or four.) Meanwhile, Gotti sulks in the kitchen, griping to her ever-present friend Tula, who's a textbook Reality Show Second Banana (see: Anna Nicole Smith's lawyer, Jaime Gleicher from Rich Girls, Nick Lachey, et al.).
This doesn't stop Gotti from arranging a dinner date with her erstwhile suitors, who show up late and snigger into their calamari. The (loose) moral of tonight's episode? Younger men are great for the complexion but hell on the psyche.
Growing Up Gotti will delight Mafiaphiles and the kind of women who loved those Diet Coke commercials with the hot construction worker. But it lacks the mass appeal of other celebrity-based reality shows. It's fun to see married pop stars bicker, or laugh at a doddering old rocker up to his ears in poodle shit. But man, where's the joy in watching a sullen blond android of dubious celebrity berate everyone around her?
"What do you kids know about loyalty or love at your age?" Gotti demands of her sons and, indirectly, of her potential boyfriends. Really, Victoria Gotti is like everyone's bitter mom. But hotter.
That same choreographed joylessness is evident in Amish in the City, the most hotly awaited UPN offering since Homeboys in Outer Space. Not nearly as exploitative as its title suggests, Amish is actually about as boring as watching a draft horse haul the cast of The Parkers up a steep incline.
That said, the premise of the show is intriguing: A gang of young Amish venture into the modern world in an amusingly named rite of passage. (It appears I was mistaken in thinking rumspringa was a porn rap trio from Miami.) After spending time on the outside, the kids must decide if they want to return to their isolated Amish communities, where watching UPN is blessedly verboten, or embrace their newfound way of life. Heightening the drama (and ripping off the Real World not a little), these game Amish are housed with a group of ghastly Gen Y brats in a hilltop Los Angeles estate. This, of course, leads to plenty of popeyed reactions from the Amish contingent as they observe the behavior of their hosts and Hollywood as a whole.
I expected the Amish to be milling around in bonnets, but thanks to the magic of television makeovers, they're kitted out in tank tops, trendy newsboy caps, and Ryan Seacrest haircuts. Ruth, one of the Amish hotties, is a dead ringer for Veronica, that bitch from the last season of The Real World/Road Rules Challenge. The only superficial traits that set the Amish apart from the "normals" are their thick horse-and-buggy accents and the fact that they all cop to having limited educations. Even the most plainspoken of the Amish guests, however, are more articulate than their outside-world counterparts, which I think we all could have predicted.
The most entertaining moments in this show lie in the carefully plotted activities and field trips. The Amish visit an aquarium for the first time ("I petted a shark!" one of them gushes). They go clubbing, and use the word "booty" with endearing precision. Amish Mose is overwhelmed by the beverage selection at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. And when the whole group visits the South Central 'hood for a lesson in street warfare, Miriam hilariously compares the Crip mentality to that of her Amish family: "The whole gang thing relates to the Amish. You have to stay in it." For real, G!
Meanwhile, the non-Amish attempt to appear sage and worldly in comparison to their rural roomies. "If the Amish could live in my shoes for one month, they'd be a lot tougher than they are now," sneers ghetto-fab Whitney, who obviously has never churned butter. Kevan, a sales rep, helps Amish Jonas study for his G.E.D. (while apparently remaining clueless on how to spell "Kevin"). The non-Amish girls explain the concept of goat cheese pizza to Miriam at a chi-chi restaurant, though discussions of politics or mass media are curiously avoided. It's jarring to see such idiotic people acting so pedantically, but the Amish accept the advice with good-natured humility.
Amish in the City is a tickler of an idea, but the execution is oddly uninspired, an unfortunate waste of the best premise since The Surreal Life. When Miriam's Amish friend drops by for a surprise birthday visit, she's asked if she can identify the Amish in the group beneath their lip gloss and Abercrombie damage. She does so instantly, to everyone's surprise but ours. As the rumspringa goes on, the cast gradually takes up residence in a newly blended world. The show, meanwhile, can't seem to get past the shallow shock of spotting the other.
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