Writing last Friday in The Wall Street Journal, sociologist Donald B. Kraybill suggested an entertaining alternative to Amish in the City: If we want real TV reality, though, why not take five TV executives and put them in an Amish family for a week and let the cameras roll as they bake some apple pies, sew some shirts, haul some manure, pull some weeds, drive some horses and try to decide which end of a cow to milk?
It turns out, though, that the Hollywood dealmaker who conceived the series has more experience with the unadorned life than any of us may have guessed. Heather Havrilesky of Salon interviews producer Jon Kroll, who mentions that he "grew up in a Northern California commune without television or telephones or electricity."
Havrilesky follows up:
Was there pressure to stay in your community?
Not the kind of pressure that the Amish face. It was presented to me that, "You're welcome to stay and do this sort of New Age homesteading thing that we're doing. You don't have to leave." And after living like that for 10 years, I really had itchy feet. I wanted to get out there, just like some of the Amish on the show. I mean, the Amish kids who were selected are the ones who actively wanted to pursue more experiences before making their decision.
The UPN series charmed most TV critics during previews in late July, and has marched on to fairly good ratings.
Philip Kennicott of The Washington Post, after the obligatory reference to the Amish as "fundamentalist," shows a good understanding of the show's winning formula:
The fear, among some groups that worry about the depiction of religion and the treatment of rural people on television, was that this show would mock and demean its Amish characters. It clearly strives not to do so, at least overtly. The producers use a basic reversal of values to insulate themselves from the charge of exploiting the Amish. Instead, they exploit every cliche of urban vanity and inanity. The city kids are dull, rude, intellectually closed-minded and hypocritical. Next to them, the Amish are delightful. They have a strange, hard-to-place but winning quality: It's called maturity.