Wednesday, July 18, 2012

American Gypsies: A Review

American Gypsies, a show about the Johns family, a Romani family in New York City, premiered on the National Geographic Channel last night.

The Ralph Macchio produced show is, to put it lightly, less than reality. Is it a reality show? Yes, absolutely. It's focused on a real family and real issues, like the family's matriarch insisting that all Gypsy women have the gift of reading tarot cards and the patriarch insisting on sticking to strict Romani culture. But are some scenes staged? Definitely. For example, sisters Amanda and Vivian decided they wanted to take acting lessons. The fact that this situation occurred in front of a camera and their father relented, against Gypsy rules, absolutely set up.

The show centers around a close knit family that is strongly territorial and subscribes to traditional Gypsy customs, including the rule that there must be a 3 block radius between Gypsy owned shops and that Gypsy women should only be in certain professions (for example, acting is banned). The children are home schooled and encouraged to stay away from non-Gypsy children. And dating a Gaje (non-Gypsy)? Strictly banned. This became an issue for Val, who couldn't introduce his family to his girlfriend because she's not Romani. Sure, he could keep a secret in real life, but this was caught on camera. If the family didn't know about his dating situation before, they certainly do now.

Some notable things about the premiere episode are that:
- Two of the central characters, Bobby and Nicky, are brothers but are polar opposites. Bobby wants his daughters to have more than the traditional Gypsy lifestyle, while Nicky very openly thinks tradition is the only option. Nicky also likes to make a scene, whereas Bobby's more calm and collected.
- The Romani men seem to speak in a dialect similar to New York City's, but the women seemed to have an accent that reminded me of Irish speech, in a way.
- A young girl, Vivian, admitted that she can't read to her father. Her father had always trusted that his wife handled home schooling, so he was shocked to learn that Vivian wasn't getting the education that she needed.
- There's a whole, organized culture for Gypsies in New York City. There are rules, standards and even a private Gypsy court system.
- There is a struggle within the Johns family about sticking to tradition and moving forward with modern culture while maintaining a Romani heritage. This is sure to play out throughout the season.

My thoughts on the episode and the American Gypsy series:
- I think this is a good show to watch, although it moves slowly and doesn't have the flashy, popping factor posessed by many of today's reality shows.
- Some of the scenes come off a bit too staged, like the patriarch of the family disapproving of Amanda and Vivian acting, yet showing up and standing in the back of the auditorium for their performance.
- There's a real, human element to this show that we don't get to see on many shows. The family on American Gypsies is relatable. We can understand their struggles between modern life and tradition, and the need to put family first.
- The show lacks the glamor of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, so if you're looking for over-the-top bling and drama, this isn't the show for you.
- While I do not condone all of the actions taken in the premier epside of American Gypsies, I think this show will be more positive for the Gypsy culture than My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding was. It shows that Romani people can be normal and are just like other people - they're not all searching for giant wedding dresses or causing trouble. Like anyone else, they can be strong, upstanding citizens or they can have downfalls. This show debunks the myth that Gypsies are nothing like typical Americans, because let's face it - Gypsy culture is just part of the American melting pot like everybody else.

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