So the Amish, a traditionalist Christian group, who are recognized for their simple dress, rejection of modern technology and use of the horse and buggy, have a mafia. Who knew? Apparently, not the Amish church, which, according to the show “Amish Mafia,” denies the existence of this underground gang of thugs who are all about making money in the guise of policing their community.
Season 2 of “Amish Mafia” focuses on the bad blood between rival bosses “Lebanon Levi” of Lancaster, Pa., and Merlin of Ohio. Instead of highlighting the real lives of a little-understood community, this series creates pseudo drama by elevating petty men to the level of gangsters.
This season, Levi is having trouble keeping his “enforcers” in line. Right-hand man Alvin lost his driver’s license after getting into trouble in Florida, while “Crazy Dave” is finding sobriety difficult. Jolin, the Mennonite on Levi’s crew, walked out on the boss last season but feels the pull to come back to the life. A young guy named Caleb joins the gang and, eager to prove himself, is sent on a few missions. These include scaring off a guy selling mobile phones to Amish kids and running a photographer out of town who is taking and selling photos of the community.
As all “mafia dons” know, life as the boss is about maintaining power, and Levi is fighting to keep Merlin from taking his. Merlin wants revenge because Levi engineered his excommunication from the church in Season 1, so he collects Levi’s unburned trash and examines it for ways to bring him down. Merlin is disgusted at Levi’s “English” or non-Amish ways, telling us that all Amish burn their garbage because they don’t want outsiders knowing their business. Either that, or Amish aren’t too keen on paying for waste disposal. Either way, Merlin discovers that Levi is running a secret maple syrup business that he promptly sends his enforcer, a little person named Wayne, to destroy. As Wayne chops trees, Merlin sits nearby and quotes passages from the Bible.
Then there’s Esther. Esther has recently returned to Lancaster, but her odd brothers and their habit of getting into trouble with the police is damaging the family name. It’s hard to figure out exactly what Esther wants, but she’s sly and probably the most interesting character in a show that is impossible to take seriously.
Maybe it’s all the re-enactments with blurred faces meant to “ensure the safety of innocent Amish,” or the soundtrack that moves between “Deliverance”-style fiddle playing to something you might hear on an episode of “Dateline.” It might be an editing style that cuts scenic shots of Amish children playing with broody shots of sinister looking farm equipment. Or it could be the feeling that you’re watching a bad foreign film as subtitles flash onscreen to translate the “Pennsylvania Dutch” (which sounds like a slang version of German) everyone speaks.
Page 2 of 2 - But mostly, I find this series silly because I grew up in Lancaster, Pa., and feel somewhat protective of this rural town and its population. While my experience with Amish was limited to hearing the clomp, clomp of their horse and buggies trotting down my street on Sunday mornings, I did know one Amish person. Her name is Rachel and she was my boss when I was in high school working part time as a cook in a local restaurant.
Rachel was tough but fair, and she had a sharp sense of humor. She broke barriers and taught me that we weren’t so different despite the very different lives we lead. The producers of “Amish Mafia” should have tracked her down. She would have been a far better representation than this little gang of bullies.
“Amish Mafia” is on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EDT on Discovery.
Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.