Before Shahs of Sunset's fifth episode "The Shahs of Great Neck" aired this past Sunday, the show got an unexpected mini PR boost. It all happened during a Saturday Night Live skit where Taran Killam played Bravo host Andy Cohen. The segment lampooned Cohen's late night show Watch What Happens Live featuring ever-so-briefly but long-enough Shahs of Sunset's spoofed stars MJ and GG. They were played by the lovely Sofia Vergara and interestingly enough an Iranian-American SNL cast member Nasim Pedrad.
The coiffed gals gripped their colorful cocktails and gaily slurred, "Hello, we're Persian!"
When I later complained about this stereotyping of Persian girls -- shallow, made-up and drunk -- to my younger sister, who is more into popular culture than me, she told me to lighten up.
"U need to not take it so seriously," she texted. "It's meant to be trash TV. It's on Bravo for goodness sake! LOL."
Maybe she's right. So I decided to watch episode five, and whatever misadventures it would bring, sprawled out on my sofa with a glass of wine -- a little something to take off the edge.
It turns out "The Shahs of Great Neck" was a bit of tear-jerker... The episode's main plot followed the lead actor's quest to unravel the Gordian knot of his nuclear family. A quick backstory recap: his parents are divorced, his mother lives in Tehrangeles and his estranged father lives on Long Island.
To start things off, Reza invites mom for tea and asks her to bring old family photos. The table at his condo is suitably arrayed with delicate Persian pastries, tea in small glasses, and a bowl of ajil, a savory mix of dried fruits and roasted nuts. (Wish I had some, they would pair well with my wine...)
Other than a feeble joke about mixing olives and water in a martini glass for his mom when he was a kid at a family gathering, which Mrs. Farahan has absolutely no recollection of, Reza gets right to the heart of the matter.
Shedding real tears, he tells all starting with the "... black and white photos from a time when life was perfect..." to "... the one thing I didn't have was a stable home with two loving parents who loved one another." I find myself reaching for a box of tissues -- my own childhood having been a tad sticky -- while Reza offers to trade in all the BMWs, all the Rolexes and all the homes in Beverly Hills to be in a Norman Rockwell painting.
OK, I get it. It's sad. Family photos of old weddings and young siblings remind me of another time and place too, one that is impossible to get back to even if there hadn't been a revolution in Iran...
Back to the show, Reza's plan to reunite with his father takes us by way of another tedious cat fight (ladies grow up, Beverly High was a long time ago) to New York, where Reza's father has been holed up in Great Neck for the past 16 years or so.
Reza travels with MJ for moral support. Before the dastardly duo drive out to Great Neck to put a band-aid on Reza's gaping hole -- his words not mine -- of fatherly abandonment, MJ and Reza cruise the streets of Manhattan in a black Beemer with Reza hollering at random men, "... all I can see are these yummy white ho's..."
I take another sip.
Then we arrive at what Reza calls the supersize version of the LA Persian house where "the blonde is blonder, the red is redder, the diamonds are bigger." What I see, instead of the multimillion-dollar house full of antiques, is a gaudily decorated home, all baroque gilt sofas and a red Persian carpet fit for a football stadium... and also a cousin with a bad bleach job.
The big reveal is that Reza's father was a Jewish-Iranian who converted to Islam to marry Reza's Muslim-Iranian mother, and that Reza's "old-ass, mean, 100-year-old, knock your lights out grandmother" broke up their happy marriage. Nice way to say hello to grandma. Said lady, who throws silent daggers at Reza the whole time while munching on her food, also prevented dad from connecting with his children much, because they were "goyim-- non-Jews."
By the end of it all, father and son have argued it out, wept and reconciled. At Shabbat, it's one big happy family, except for the wickedest witch of grandparents, whom I shall miss.
Other highlights... Asa wore an ugly turban (Hello, we're Persian towel-heads!), Sammy gave MJ her belated birthday $15/20,000 diamond earrings, which actually cost $2,800 (Hello, we're Persians and we lie to our BFFs!) and Mike was absent, as he was largely absent from episode four (Hello, we're Persians, possibly with a conscience!)
Somebody get me another glass of wine.