“When the revolution happened, we all had to pick up and flee the old country.”
So begins the premiere episode of “Shahs of Sunset,” Bravo’s latest reality series focused on a wealthy niche community. The oft-referred to “old country” is Iran, and its Islamic Revolution of 1979 — which occurred when most of the cast were small children. And while this is new territory for the people who brought you the Real Housewives and Kardashian franchises, it certainly ain’t the History Channel.
In the premiere episode of “Shahs,” Bravo and Ryan Seacrest Productions juxtapose these Persian-Americans’ narratives of their refugee pasts alongside flashy images associated with Beverly Hills excess and reality show ridiculousness: Mercedes Benzes, shopping sprees, suits and swimming pools.
The immigrant experience alongside the ups and downs of being a rich and single thirty-something in LA is the series’ backdrop. It’s had the public buzzing with curiosity (Middle Eastern, and particularly Muslim-American lifestyles have yet to be depicted widely on TV) — and many Iranian-Americans anxious (that the show will perpetuate Persian stereotypes of being materialistic, insular and showy). Tonight the “Shahs” did a fine job of confirming both of those preemptive conclusions.
In “Image is Everything,” audiences meet Sammy (a real estate developer), Asa (a self-proclaimed artist), MJ (a real estate agent), Mike (a commercial real estate developer), GG (“My daddy does my bill-keeping and bill-paying”), and Reza (a real estate agent). Notice a pattern? Indeed, as Mike declares in a memorable one-liner, “We don’t live in buildings — we own them.”
The group spends much of their time discussing family issues and traditions (get married) as well as religious beliefs (most are Muslim or Jewish), and the pressure is on to look good — a memorable argument breaks out between GG and Asa after a comment is made about wearing H&M. Because, as Reza puts it, “telling someone that they’re wearing H&M in our group is basically calling them a broke-ass.”
And really, thank goodness for Reza! He’s undoubtedly the series’ breakout star — an openly gay Muslim man of Iranian descent who was “born to stir the pot,” according to his castmate MJ. He rocks a “rapist mustache,” has an unlimited amount of zingers, isn’t too shy to show his bare bottom in a shower scene, and single-handedly ups the entertainment value of the show.
A scene at Sammy’s pool party is particularly amusing — including a caged tiger, kabobs, scattered Persian rugs and some good old reality TV catfighting. Here we learn that GG truly enjoys fighting about other people’s wardrobe choices, criticizing Mike’s taste in women, and adjusting stray hairs (nonstop). Let’s be honest — we’ll stay tuned to see more drama from her. And to hear plenty of Reza’s quips! And to take a listen to Asa’s pop song “Tehrangeles” — perhaps it will be the next “Tardy for the Party.”
But will “Shahs” fall into the “Most Eligible Dallas” bucket, or a cut above � la “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”? Beyond the Persian customs and occasional Farsi vocab lesson, audiences are bound to appreciate each cast member (there’s no obvious villain – yet), and will probably enjoy to brainlessly dive into the “Shahs” universe. As the season moves on, we’ll have to wait and see if the SNL parodies, spinoffs or even a second season are in the cards.
Oh and for the record — we spoke to Asa last week, and she wants you to know that “I actually love H&M… I have tons of H&M stuff.”