Lebanon Levi (seated) and his holy henchmen
  • Discovery
  • Lebanon Levi (seated) and his holy henchmen

If I had to put a finger on the reasons why reality television shows about the Amish are so popular at the moment (which is what I’m about to do even though I don’t have to), I figure my answer would be threefold: it’s because Amish people are weird (dress weird, speak a cute language, hate fun, etc), because we like watching people behave in a manner that’s unbecoming to their culture’s mores (thematic in the spate of current programs), and, finally, because the Amish are infamously secretive. They don’t want us to know what they’re up to. So goddammit, we want to know.

Despite that they’re both Amish and apparently involved in an array criminal acts, the stars of Discovery’s Amish Mafia have no problem letting the English gawk at their organization’s inner workings. Almost no problem: a disclaimer in the show’s opening says, “Select reenactments must be used to protect the identities of the innocent.” Surely they’ll tell us when we’re watching a reenactment, right? Hahaha—sucker. All the same, a sort of reality-TV catch-22 is created: this access is being offered up, so it immediately seems less valuable. Or maybe it wasn’t valuable to begin with.

If the Amish were allowed to watch mobster movies (or any movies), they’d probably refer to Lebanon Levi as their don. They’d also realize they were treading pretty well-worn territory, what with the infighting, power struggles, and attempted coups over which the show obsesses. But instead of carrying out hits on people’s lives, Levi’s henchmen break lots of glass things with baseball bats: buggy windows, bottles of unpasteurized raw milk. If you’re worried you won’t be able to orient yourself, FEAR NOT; the season-two premiere recaps the entire first season.

One thing the show does well is destroy our illusions about the Amish being weird and therefore interesting. Turns out a bunch of the faithful drive cars, get wasted, dance on tables in the rainbow glow of novelty disco lights. Well, that or the show is stretching the truth. Lancaster County’s DA isn’t necessarily buying it. Asked about rumors that the show is staged, he told MSN, “I have a fairly close relationship with the Amish community here, and there’s nothing coming from them that leads me to believe anything is going on.”