Goodfellas they ain't
The Amish Mafia? Terrific title, silly show. The idea of a violent gang operating among the Gentle People is immediately intriguing because until now about the worst incidence of intra-Amish crime was a rash of beard-cutting attacks in Ohio.
The Amish Mafia? Terrific title, silly show.
The idea of a violent gang operating among the Gentle People is immediately intriguing because until now about the worst incidence of intra-Amish crime was a rash of beard-cutting attacks in Ohio.
The Amish Mafia is so far from being an expose of organized crime among the Pennsylvania Dutch that it verges on unintentional comedy.
In the first five minutes of Tuesday night's pilot, you learn that the Amish church denies the existence of any such group. The Lancaster County police "refuse to comment." Even the purported leader of the gang, Lebanon Levi, insists that there is no such thing.
Is this any way to start a reality show?
So the producers of The Amish Mafia, which moves to its regular time slot Wednesday night at 9, have to go to extraordinary lengths to make the premise appear semi-legit.
Sleepy-eyed and corpulent, Levi looks like the meat manager at your local Acme. He's an unlikely capo di shoofly. As he says, "I'm just a guy who is willing to do things for people."
His consigliere, Alvin, has a bowl cut and a Germanic accent so thick that everything he says requires subtitles.
Jolin is the soldier and wheelman, which means he's a Mennonite with a rifle collection. John is the young hothead who is itching to challenge Levi.
These guys are hardly setting off any crime waves. Levi, who does business from behind a desk in a hay-stacked barn, functions more as an unofficial insurance agent, helping his brethren with cash if equipment gets broken or if they're injured and cannot work.
A broken buggy wheel doesn't make for riveting drama, so the pilot trumps up the lust - Amish men behaving badly.
But the series uses re-creations so extensively, it's hard to tell which, if any, of the group's activities are real.
Except for Levi's guys and John's sister Esther, virtually every face seen on camera is blurred. Voices are radically altered.
Most of the time, this effort seems unnecessary, with identities being hidden merely to make the show seem more dangerous.
Other methods used to make the atmosphere ominous: strident music playing over perfectly peaceful pastoral scenes. And a recurring image of the four enforcers walking shoulder to shoulder through a field of corn stubble.
But the intimidation factor vanishes when the producers show the gang's rap sheets - all very brief and heavily redacted. The only charge ever mentioned against any of them is disorderly conduct.
The question arises: Where do the envelopes of money that Levi slips to people come from?
Turns out he does operate a kind of protection racket. When the boys catch a pillar of the community cavorting with a prostitute, Levi advises the man to leave the area for an unspecified exile - and not to worry about his various local businesses. Levi will run them until he feels it is safe for the man to return.
Did this scandal actually happen, or is the show taking broad liberties with its "reenactments"? I know which way I'm leaning. I thought I was watching a Farrelly Brothers movie.
You watch the show and decide if it seems genuine to you.
Levi is tooling around in a shiny new Cadillac. (Because he was not baptized in the Amish church, he is permitted to drive.) Did he pay for the wheels with ill-gotten gains? Or is the car being leased with TV money?
Either way, Levi has got it all over poor John, who has to get around on a push-scooter. That's hard-core gangster.
The Amish Mafia may sound oxymoronic, but as a TV show, it's strictly moronic.