July 27, 2004 -- What's next? "Sikhs and the City"?
At the risk of igniting a craze for copycat reality shows focusing on people who dress differently than the rest of us (working title: "The Joy of Sects"), I have to admit that UPN's "Amish in the City" is not nearly as bad as its preposterous (and potentially mean) premise makes it sound.
And even though it's the Amish participants who are being set up here for ridicule (or so it would seem), their six mainstream housemates fare far worse.
They are ugly, awful, self-centered people who are unspeakably rude when they first meet the five young Amish (three men and two women) who have shown up at their door to live with them in a garish modern mansion in the Hollywood Hills.
The so-called "normals" literally laugh in the faces of the innocent new arrivals and openly declare their disappointment at the prospect of spending two months with people who seem so exotic.
That, of course, sets up the premise of "Amish in the City," which is to see what happens when a bunch of narrow-minded, shiftless, materialistic ignoramuses are brought together under one roof with people who live a life characterized by deep faith and strong tradition.
The Amish kids have come to L.A. to experience the non-Amish life and to see if they want to commit to the strictures of the Amish lifestyle for the rest of their lives. It's a period of personal growth and reappraisal known in the Amish culture as rumspringa.
What saves the show are the Amish. For the most part, they're a delightful and surprisingly outgoing group (except maybe for Jonas, who becomes embittered by some anti-Amish comments he hears from some of the house's other residents, and Randy, the quietest of the Amish who is scarcely heard from in the series' first two episodes, both of which will be shown back-to-back Wednesday night).
But you have to love Ruth, Miriam and Mose. Mose is a cheerful, open-minded inventor of charming homemade toys, knick-knacks and magic tricks he carves out of wood.
Miriam is a sandy-blonde fox who outshines the house's other young women when she changes from her plain Amish clothing into more recognizable southern California sportswear.
And Ruth is an Amish sweetheart who can barely sleep the night before a scheduled daytrip to the beach — the first in her 20-year-old life and an experience she is hopeful will bring her "closer to God." The surf, sand and sunshine are so stunning to Ruth that she cries and you cannot help crying along with her.
You almost feel sorry for Ruth and the other Amish because they're being threatened with corruption by a bunch of total blockheads — one of whom is a vegan who believes cows come from outer space.
For the Amish, who all grew up on farms and whose families depend on cows for their very survival, it's their housemates, such as the vegan Ariel, who seem like aliens.
"Amish in the City"
Tomorrow night at 8 on UPN/Ch. 9
3/4 stars http://nypost.com/photos/entlede07272004.jpg