Breaking Amish: Brave New World: TV Review

Despite its melodrama, the spin-off series is dour and still struggles with authenticity.

TLC's controversial spin-off series depicts its five "liberated" Amish youths shunned, scorned and spinning out of control.

TLC has reunited the cast of its reality series Breaking Amish once more for a "rebranded" spin-off series, Breaking Amish: Brave New World, that features the original cast -- Abe, Rebecca, Sabrina, Jeremiah and Kate -- but changes the locale to Amish snowbird haven, Sarasota, Fla. TLC debuted Breaking Amish last year to big ratings, but came under fire almost immediately regarding questions about the show's authenticity. There has always been a questionable amount of true reality present in most docu-dramas, but Breaking Amish seemed to go beyond the pale. For one, cast members had not even been a part of the Amish communities for years that they were shown struggling to break free from.

It didn't end there. Early in the first series, Facebook photos of quiet, contemplative Abe and doe-eyed Rebecca surfaced that showed the couple had been married for years and had a child, and had not in fact "just met" on the show. Information also came to the forefront that ex-Mennonite Sabrina was divorced, as was "playboy" Jeremiah, over allegations of abuse, which went completely against much of what was depicted or alluded to on the show.

But ratings stayed high, and some of those discrepancies were addressed (read: carefully tiptoed around) in a two-part reunion show that itself was controversial. Sabrina and Jeremiah even admitted to having drunken sex twice while the show was filming, while Jeremiah was involved with someone else. "He stuck it in, but I made him stop," she said plainly, without any trace of Mennonite reserve, "and he knows it." 

In Brave New World, nine months have passed since the end of last season's filming, and everyone, besides Kate, has returned to living in Pennsylvania. Shunned by the Amish and scorned by nearly everyone, including the "English" (i.e. the non-Amish) for their behavior and poor representations of their communities, the "liberated" five don't seem to be adjusting well.

Jeremiah, who recently moved from Pennsylvania to Florida, gets the wheels turning to get the five to join him and his English girlfriend Kim in the Sun Belt, away from the disapproving eye of their community, despite their drama and differences. But throughout the premiere episode, which has a suffocatingly negative air to it, it's clear that some of the cast, and particularly Abe and Rebecca, miss their families and a sense of community, and are stuck between the two worlds.

The show's sadness might or might not lift once the group reunites and heads south, but so far it's simply depressing. Sabrina, now with bleach-blonde hair, lives alone with a gun next to her door, waiting for her boyfriend Harry to be released from prison for assault. Rebecca and Abe live with Rebecca's daughter (father unknown to viewers) in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, with Abe unable to find a job. Bishop's daughter Kate seems successful in New York City with her modeling career, but her drinking problem is alluded to, as is her dissatisfaction with the unfortunate reality that she lacks any emotional support from her family, and the rest of the group doesn't care to have her around.

Without much education, very few skills and no support, the five seem destined to fail. What started out last year as gleeful liberation (even though the show has always been heavy-handed on melodrama) has become a trashy descent into the unpleasant. If this keeps up for the remainder of the season, not even attempts to enjoy it as a narrative series -- with a few sumptuously filmed landscape scenes instead of the documentary it purports to be -- will save it. Breaking from the Amish has left Abe, Rebecca, Kate, Sabrina and Jeremiah, and possibly the series, simply broken. 

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