After celebrating the fake tans and drunken antics of Italian-American youths, America’s reality TV machine this week unleashes its latest ethnic portrait: "Russian Dolls." And not everyone is happy.
The series will focus on eight characters from New York’s Brighton Beach neighborhood, which publicists for Lifetime television call "one of the most interesting and mysterious communities in the US."
But, while Brighton Beach, also known as Little Odessa, really is home to America’s most famous Russian Diaspora, don’t expect "Dolls" to be exactly a documentary.
Promotional literature promises leggy blondes obsessed with money, makeup, better bodies and jewelry, while the trailer shows the main characters partying, fighting and frolicking, lingerie-clad, in bed.
Some Russian-Americans fear that despite Lifetime’s promise to go "deep" into Brighton Beach, the show will instead be a deluge of clichés about hard-drinking, vulgar and greedy Russians.
But if so, Lifetime will only be following in the lucrative footsteps of MTV’s hit reality show "Jersey Shore."
In that series, young Italian-Americans are filmed living in a rented beach house with little more to do than behave badly, take Jacuzzis and display flesh.
So popular has the series become that main cast members, like "Snooki" and Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino, are now celebrities. Complaints from Italian-American associations about bad taste and ethnic-stereotyping have been drowned out in the roar of success.
Mandy Stadtmiller, a television critic who previewed "Dolls" for the New York Post, told AFP "it depicts a cartoon of what it means to be Russian in Brighton Beach. That’s why some of the community leaders have protested."
Yet that doesn’t mean harm is intended, she said.
"It’s clearly all in the spirit of fun, the way anything is exaggerated on television."
‘Strong negative stereotypes’
Unlike MTV’s "Jersey Shore," which sequesters the hard-partying cast in a dedicated house, the heroes of "Dolls" will be observed in their natural surroundings. Another difference, according to the more family-orientated Lifetime, is the "multi-generational" aspect of the series.
Yet, judging by advance publicity, viewers shouldn’t expect too much in the way of wizened babushkas and fairy tale grandfathers. Five of the cast, including "skillful flirt" Anna and "handsome lady-killer" Eddie, are in their 20s. The other three — two of them women of 47 — are so well-preserved they look barely older.
The casting call that went out left no doubt, calling for "the Russian Snooki or The Situation," and stating: "The cameras will roll as you do what you do best — eat, drink and PARTY."
Katya Fomina, who arrived in the United States from Russia at the age of 11 and works for an academic archiving service, said the scene depicted in "Dolls" is not necessarily false.
"I do recognize these people. I’ve seen this type of Russian before. It’s the one that will sell — just the same as with ‘Jersey Shore,’" Fomina, 30, told AFP.
But like other Russian-Americans, she declared the show "trashy."
Ksenia Adamovitch, who works in film and splits her time between New York and Moscow, said Lifetime was right in saying that not much was known about the Russian immigrant community, but that "Dolls" will not help.
"There are very strong negative stereotypes about them, especially women I think, which this show just reinforces," Adamovitch, 29, said.
"I find it extremely insulting that out of everything that could be shown about Russian-Americans, this is what gets chosen to be on TV. This is what people will inevitably associate with Russians if the show takes off."
Stadtmiller said "Dolls" has a good chance of success and she believes viewers, including residents of Brighton Beach, would take it with a pinch of salt.
"Every person I talked to in Brighton Beach — even if they were opposed to it — was planning to tune in to the premiere."