"When the revolution happened" are the first words we hear in "Shahs of Sunset," a new Bravo reality series about the Persian Americans of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills — six of them anyway, and their glimpsed families and supporting-cast friends. The revolution referred to is the one that took place in Iran in 1979, which helped create the sizable diaspora whose local chapter, sometimes called Tehrangeles, comprises the largest Iranian community outside of Iran.
The novelty of the setting aside, we have been here before. Some of the characters are Muslim, some Jewish; one is gay. But this being Bravo, what matters most about them is that they are rich. Though a stray remark of substance here and there escapes into the narrative, the six-part series, which premieres Sunday, has nothing much serious on its mind.
Once again we are confronted with the phenomenon of people who do not need the money agreeing to appear on television shows that will most likely, at some point, make them look bad. (Of course, as much can be said of many professional actors.) But I suppose I underestimate the attractive power of being on TV. And it also must be true, if social media are anything to go by, that people have grown harder to embarrass.
Indeed, reality TV itself has helped create a climate in which grossness and fabulousness might go hand in hand. "I love being able to go out with a tall blond with implants one day, the next day with, like, a beautiful Asian girl," Sammy says. "That's my thing."
Still, even from this side of the screen, Sammy, who (like most of his castmates) deals in high-end real estate, does not seem like a bad guy. Indeed, the group as a whole is likable by the standards of the genre; most of them are actually friends, and the trash they talk about each other is more than balanced by their protestations of affection and support.
The designated burr in the saddle is Asa, an arty type who grew up "ghetto" (that is, in the poorer reaches of the Beverly Hills High School district) and whose ways and clothes are regarded as scandalous by the rest. Still, she's invited everywhere because she's in the show too. And she clearly relishes the role of agitated outsider.
"These are the parties I avoided in high school," Asa says as we watch her arrive at Sammy's house for the big set piece that ends the first episode and includes the sad sight of a caged tiger used as decoration. "It wasn't my crowd at all."
The only actually irritating character is "GG," who seems to be the baby among them — certainly in her moral and social development, she is. The sole cast member who does not work or at least work at something, she has clearly spent some time watching other reality shows and displays the nuh-uh mannerisms and vocal inflections of a tough girl from the East.
As pictured, she is hot, shallow ("I don't like ants, and I don't like ugly people") and tiresome — but, as I say, she is hot. We are encouraged to think that there is something budding between her and buff Mike ("I'm what you call an alpha male"), who has known her since she was a little girl, "pre-nose job, pre-being sexy."
That the principals, who are for the most part well into their 30s, are all still single adds a certain late-summer piquancy to the proceedings — though in spite of the usual manufactured tension and artificial drama, "Shahs," like most Bravo series, is at heart a sitcom. And that sitcom is "Friends."