x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

TV programme Russian Dolls gets pegged the Russian 'Jersey Shore'

A new reality TV show, which premiered on the Lifetime cable network in the US, features six women and two men, plus colourful extras.

Russian Dolls cast member Diana Kosov.
Russian Dolls cast member Diana Kosov.

A mother is lecturing her 23-year-old daughter about her love life, flailing a kitchen knife above her head for emphasis. Mum's point: she'd like her immigrant daughter, from the former Soviet republic of Moldova, to marry a man with similar roots, keeping the family's East European Jewish tradition.

Alas, the daughter informs mum that she's already dating a Hispanic man. But she soon dumps him, on camera, during a restaurant date.

The scene is captured in a new TV reality show called Russian Dolls, which premiered on the Lifetime cable network in the US last month.

Called the Russian Jersey Shore or Real Housewives, the show features six women and two men, plus colourful extras such as Anna Kosov, the mother. They're all from the former Soviet Union, although just two are actually from Russia, and they either live or have lived in Brooklyn's Brighton Beach neighbourhood.

The show has drawn the wrath of neighbours and community leaders, who say it creates a caricature of their immigrant world, turning cast members into "Russians in tacky clothes who do little more than eat, drink and party", says John Lisyanskiy, founder of the new non-profit Russian-Speaking American Leadership Caucus and a budget analyst for the New York City Council.

The show's characters represent "a small portion of our community," acknowledges Yelena Makhnin, executive director of the Brighton Beach Business Improvement District. But she says her neighbourhood by the Brooklyn boardwalk is mostly "a very intelligent, very well educated, hardworking community".

Makhnin, of the business improvement district, agrees, saying she's "not offended" by the show. "It's not a documentary; it's a commercial TV project, with stereotyping," she says.

"Unfortunately," she adds, "this is what the public buys."

Kosov, a hairdresser, had to mend relations with her Mexican-born boss over remarks she'd made on the show about her daughter, Diana Kosov, dating the Hispanic man.

"I told her, 'I'm not racist'," she says. "I love any kind of people."

The truth is, there's reality TV - and then there's reality.

"Is that what it says?" asks Albert Binman, roaring with laughter as he reads a promo describing him as a spiffy 26-year-old, a "wheeler-dealer" who "parties every night" and "wants to marry a nice Russian girl".

"I do not party every night," he says. Binman does, however, go to work every day, doing medical billing.

Anna Khazanova, a 22-year-old commercial model, says there's much more to her than meets the lens, including mentoring teenage girls who attend the modelling school she started and runs.

"Family means the world to me," says Khazanova, who shared a bedroom with her older sister until the sibling went off to medical school recently. "I've been working since I'm 15, and helped support my family."

Rakhman, the banker, says if viewers see "some overblown stuff... it's good TV, it was fun".