Television critics gathered at the TCA Summer Press Tour got their first peek at Amish youth in the big city weeks before TLC premieres Breaking Amish, its newest “alternative lifestyle” reality offering, Sunday night at 10/9CT.
Wearing simple dresses, white bonnets and dark tights and shoes, 21-year-old bishop’s daughter Kate and 25 year old Sabrina, who was adopted by Mennonite parents, took to the stage to discuss their faith, their show and the potential fallout — then noshed sushi and sliders with critics and network brethren later that evening around the pool at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.
It was a fitting dual-worlds introduction to the series, which features the young women and three of their peers struggling to separate their own dreams and desires from those of their families, friends and fellow church members as they leave their sheltered lives behind and try their luck — and loads of new experiences — in New York City, permanently threatening their ability to come back home.
To ensure its authenticity — and the proper respect for the Amish and Mennonite cultures it delves into — the show’s executive producers, Eric and Shannon Evangelista, brought aboard producers from both communities who introduced them to their cast members and served as a bridge to their families, not all of whom elected to appear on-camera.
“All of the young men and women in our show — all five of them — were going to leave and going to do something and they didn’t know how to make that happen,” Eric explained. “We provided them a much safer way to do that. [But] it’s completely unique, with very high stakes and each character on this show has a tremendous amount on the line.”
And even the bravest among them knew it.
“You feel really liberated and happy in a sense,” said Sabrina, who is Italian and Puerto Rican and longs to explore those cultures and locate her birth parents, “but you’ve still got this underlying voice in the back of your head saying what if — what if I really am going to go to hell? You’ve got these voices in your head that have been talking to you your whole life and you carry them with you everywhere you go, whether you want to or not.”
But all are adamant that Breaking Amish isn’t about a slightly more grown up version of rumspringa — the period in a young Amish person’s life when they are permitted to experience the temptations of the outside world before being baptized permanently into the culture. Each of the cast members approached the experience as a possible path to a new life … and a lifelong career.
“There’s a lot of Amish people who have their own businesses,” said Kate, a somber, azure-eyed Katie Holmes lookalike and aspiring model whose passion for makeup and fashion magazines perturbed her devout dad. “Our parents teach us a lot about the business world. And we all pursued jobs up in New York City.”
And so, with big-city grub in their hands and Amish/Mennonite garb on their backs, Sabrina and Kate offered few clues as to which life path they might ultimately choose.
“We’re actually still filming the show,” said Kate. “We’re still trying to make that decision.”
Meet the rest of the cast:
Jeremiah (32): Like Sabrina, Jeremiah was adopted by an Amish family and is willing to leave his family and his faithful girlfriend behind to drive the motorized vehicles he sees whizzing by his horse and buggy, and explore buildings that are taller than the family barn.
Abe (22): Not entirely sure he wants to leave his Amish lifestyle (or girlfriend) behind, Abe still feels limited by his eighth grade education and the lack of opportunities it affords him. At first supported by his mother, who longs to see the world herself, Abe is torn when she suddenly demands that he return home.
Rebecca (20): A delicate, sweet-faced blond, Rebecca also dreams of being a model. The youngest castmember, she might also be the boldest, having punched a male classmate in the face, and charging full steam ahead on finding new life experiences — and modern love — in The Big Apple.
Breaking Amish premieres on TLC Saturday, Sept. 9, at 10/9CT.
Images/video: ©2012 Discovery Communications, LLC.