American subcultures have become a hot trend in the past year, with TV shows delving into the lives of the Amish, a group called the Hutterites and, perhaps most infamously — and entertainingly, in some instances — Gypsies (some of whom prefer to be called “Roma”). TLC has had hits with My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding (which were not short on gaudy fashions, emotional fireworks and dramatic fisticuffs — and that was just among the women). National Geographic Channel is now starting its own Roma series, American Gypsies, this month.
Co-executive produced by Ralph Macchio, American Gypsies follows one of New York City’s most prominent Roma clans, the Johns family, who struggle to preserve their age-old customs and keep power in their community. One of the Johns sons, Bobby, particularly struggles with balancing his family’s old ways and letting his daughters experiment with branching out into their own lives in a more modern, non-Roma world (such as letting them take an acting class, as seen in the series premiere, much to the chagrin of the other family members).
While much of the drama and conflict (and even dialogue) in the premiere episode felt surprisingly scripted for a non-scripted series, almost like a Roma version of The Godfather, it is interesting to learn about this subculture, who have their own rules (Roma are not allowed to open a competing business within three blocks of another Roma business); their own courts outside of the American judicial system to resolve their community conflicts; and their own restrictive system of who they can and cannot date and marry.
American Gypsies airs Tuesdays on National Geographic Channel beginning July 17 at 9pm ET/PT.
Credit: National Geographic Channels/Shadow Stick Productions/Mani Zarin