Tehrangeles: Persian Paradise for the “Shahs of Sunset” by Will Kay

Posted on February 20, 2013

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What separates Shahs of Sunset from other semi-scripted reality shows is that it focuses on a diaspora, the Persian diaspora of Los Angeles (aka Tehrangeles). In many ways this frames the struggles throughout the show; most of the cast are trying to reconcile their Persian heritage with living in the US. The fascinating parts are not only the way the cultures discord, but also where they align.

The cast have your typical reality show personalities (especially Bravo-esque): loud, fractious, aggressive, money-obsessed, party-loving and ostentatious.  What separates the cast of the Shahs of Sunset from that of comparable shows such as Jersey Shore is that all bar one (Golnesa aka GG) have real careers, a story of upheaval and immigration, and a strong connection to aspects of their heritage (eg. all of the cast speak Farsi). This mix of factors creates a fascinating story of triumph and continual struggle. It allows you to really get invested in the cast and their relationships.

From L-R: MJ, Mike, GG, Asa, Reza and Lilly.

From L-R: MJ, Mike, GG, Asa, Reza and Lilly.

The season two cast of six is made up of GG (the aggressive, spoiled adult-child), Mike (the buff, macho-boring real estate agent), Lilly (“Persian barbie” and attorney-cum-bikini designer), Asa (self-anointed “Persian pop priestess”, and spiritual conduit)  and best friends MJ (drunkard, voluptuous real estate agent) and Reza (gay, shit-stirring real estate agent). Much like other reality shows, Shahs also has a breakout personality, and in this case it is Reza. With his ’70s porn mustache, “Little Reza”, and wicked sense of humour, Reza’s charisma steals the show. He is such an attractive force that many of the fights in the show are caused by jealousy related to friendships with Reza. Part of what makes him such a wonderful personality is that his identity—as a gay, half-Jewish half-Muslim Persian—in the Persian community represents a heretical existence.  Yet, he seems proud of his identity, including his heritage, and thankful for his position among Persians in America.

Best friends Reza and MJ at a pool party that featured a real live tiger.

Which brings me to one of Reza catch-cries, “Hello?! We’re Persian”, this crops up every few episodes in response to all sorts of things, from a love of gold (Asa has a song with the refrain, “Watchu know about gold?”) to loving one’s mother. I can say that not knowing much about Persian history and culture, I have learnt a lot from watching the show. Despite this, the show has received criticism for perpetuating stereotypes of Iranian-Americans as materialistic and shallow. While I can’t say that any of the personalities on the show eschew these characteristics, I think that reality TV has been around long enough for people to understand that no community can be fairly represented by six people. Especially, six people chosen to entertain.

Reza joon.

However, there is one personality I feel the show is exploiting: GG. I feel that GG has some serious mental health issues that the show is exploiting for the sake of drama. The behaviour that she exhibits is irrational and violent; the show often insinuates her behaviour is related to her spoiled upbringing but it appears to be something much more serious than that.

Shahs of Sunset presents typical realty TV fair with a twist that enables a degree of understanding for an under-represented minority. If you find typical reality TV entertaining you will find this highly entertaining because the personalities are exciting, their backgrounds are enlightening, and, let’s face it, they seem like a lot of fun. Personally, I would love to listen to Reza’s brilliant one-liners while drinking some of Asa’s diamond-infused water and listening to Tehrangeles.

Will Kay is You’re Dripping Egg’s co-creator. His column, Nothing Unnecessary bar the Unnecessary, in which he looks a little to hard at things that just don’t matter, is released every second Wednesday. 

What do you think of Shahs of Sunset? Do you think Will was too kind, or are you a lover of the “tribe”? Voice your concerns/support in the comments.

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