Hey remember that cute play that’s a big hit among community theatres? It’s called “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” a funny, heart-warming coming-of-age story based loosely on playwright Neil Simon’s Jewish upbringing in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn. Well, Lifetime has provided us with an experience reminiscent of Neil’s memories. It’s called “Russian Dolls,” a heart-warming, coming-of-age story of the children of hard-working Russian immigrants trying to pave their own way in the land of opportunity.
No, no, it’s not. “Russian Dolls” is nothing more than Brighton Beach’s answer to “Jersey Shore,” and rather than make Italian Americans look bad, they’re giving Russian Americans a bad name. Brighton Beach is the location for this grand piece of theatre – and it’s not exactly the way I remembered it in the Eugene Trilogy. While there is some mention of the hard life immigrants face, the main focus of “Russian Dolls” is on a bunch of spoiled rotten brats trying desperately to create drama and play on negative stereotypes for the sake of television ratings. If Neil Simon were dead, he’d be rolling over in his grave. He’s not, but after watching this show, I bet he’d wish he was. But enough of my rant – onto the recap!
We open on a famous Russian quote:
“Gossip is like the blood that runs in Russian women’s veins.” –Eddie
Eddie? Who the hell is Eddie? Some great Russian philosopher? Nope – we’ll learn later that Eddie is just an average cast member, quoting some old famous Russian proverb that no one could be bothered to look up. Oh well, we’re not about fact-checking here.
Anna is a 22-year-old “model” who’s determined to make something of herself. And she’s done it all – catalogs, runway shows – even fashion week in New York! You can tell she done a lot of high-end stuff – she has the pictures to prove it:
My next gig is going to be on the Girls Next Store.
But Anna’s not just another pretty face. She’s a businesswoman who has started her own modeling school. You have to hand it to her – she’s come from humble beginnings. Anna and her family moved to New York from the Ukraine when she was just 9-years-old. Now she lives with her parents, sister and Grandmother in a tiny two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn.
Hey Grams, can you take the couch tonight? I have a date and I may need the bedroom later.
It’s not an easy life, but Anna has goals – and she’s determined to make a better life for herself and her family. And what better way to do that than to take naked pictures of yourself? Like a good girl, she always shows pictures of her photo shoots to her mother, who is very critical:
Anna, I have told you. You must show your nipples to get a rich husband.
But enough about life goals! Let’s talk about more important things, like men! Anna abruptly changes the subject, revealing that “playing with guys is a hobby” for her. She shows off all of the gifts men have given her over the years, which mainly consists of stuffed animals won at Coney Island. Anna’s a cheap date. And a whore, apparently.
For some reason, Anna is proud to admit that she’s never had a boyfriend she didn’t cheat on. Even when they tell her how much they care about Anna, she rolls her eyes and insinuates she wants to hurry up and finish the deed so she can go on her next date.
Are you inspired yet?
But even whores have to make a living, so Anna goes to work at her modeling school. After all, she needs something to fall back on once she loses her looks. Plus, Brighton Beach is a great place to run a modeling school, since many supermodels are from Russia. Anna’s looking for the next big Russian supermodel, right in her own neighborhood!
You girls do realize that New York City is right across the river, don’t you?
Anna is hard at work on her very first fashion show. If it’s a success, she can get more students. And her school is top-notch. Anna teaches her girls how to walk and pose. And she gives dietary tips, which consist of the following rules: Drink water. Eat or drink nothing but water. Water is the only thing you’re allowed to consume for the rest of your life!
Her poor kids just stare at her blankly, extreme hunger in their eyes.
Oh, this is just the tip of the iceberg, says Anna. My modeling school is just the start. After this succeeds, I plan on starting another business, then another, then another. But don’t worry, I won’t let anyone eat anything at any of those businesses either.
As a future successful businesswoman, Anna understands the importance of marketing. So she goes to the local Russian radio station, where we meet Renata, a local Russian celebrity. Renata’s a sweet woman from the old country who knows everyone and everything in Brighton Beach. She would do anything to help a young businesswoman out. Renata not only gives Anna some radio time, but she also offers to host the show. After all, Anna reminds Renata of herself when she was that age – the businesswoman part, not the whore part, of course.
But why get to know Renata more when we can cut to Albert and Eddie, who are the Brighton Beach equivalent to The Situation and Pauly D? After all, we need something to appease the ladies. And these guys have a lot of similarities to their Italian counterparts. They do shots, wear gold chains and eat pickles. Is nothing original on this show?
Well, if you expect to see fist-pumping and hooking up this episode, you’re out of luck. The girls dance around, promising they’re going to “party tonight” while they get ready, but no one really comes through on their promises. The kids do go out for drinks at a local restaurant in Brighton Beach. Why not go to a club in the city? Well, explains Eddie, we have everything we want right here – alcohol and slutty women! Why drop the money for a NYC steak when you can have Hamburger Helper at home?
I don’t know. I kind of like steak.
They hit up a local Thai restaurant to “get ripped.” Lucky for them, there’s no one else there, so there’s plenty of room to set up shots. Camera shots, I mean.
Eddie has a crush on Anna. He likes her so much he even showed a picture of her to his mom, who apparently encouraged him to hook up with her. Oh, those old-fashioned mothers and their silly ideas about courtships! So when you’re a single guy in a small section of a big city, how do you let a girl know that you like her? Well, insult her, of course
Anna asks for it, though. She jokes that Eddie “ain’t got no money,” which is extremely offensive to Russian men. Not only is it rude, but it implies that the guy won’t be able to buy you a stuffed animal at Coney Island and get laid later in the evening.
Lacking a sense of humor, Eddie doesn’t take Anna’s joke lightly. He calls her a “fake model.” Insulting? Yes. But why stop there? Eddie further claims she’s done “nothing” as a model. OK, enough, right? Nope. “Your little modeling school with 12-year-olds is nothing, kiddo.”
Well, at least he didn’t call you a whore, honey. We’ll save that for the recappers.
It’s all too much for Anna, who calls Eddie insecure and leaves the table. The other girls are in shock, speechless. Even his buddy Albert defends poor Anna, who by this point is outside in tears. Not one to back down, Eddie explains that when you wrong him, you’ll pay the consequences. “My mom taught me, as a man, to always stand up for what I believe in,” says Eddie.
Every once in awhile, a girl deserves a good verbal beating. That’s the Brighton Beach way.
Anastasia and Diana leave the restaurant to comfort Anna, and eventually Eddie comes to his senses. He joins them, leaving poor Albert behind to pay the bill.
We’ve got to stop coming back here. I think they’re on to our dine and dash scheme.
Well, Eddie finally apologizes, but it’s not accepted. This is gonna be one long episode.
Did I mention this show is full of Russian stereotypes? Just to hit us over the head with it, the producers throw in an interlude with scenes from Russian life, which include:
Men in towels at public bathhouses.
Men in towels playing cards.
Men in towels drinking vodka.
I have learned so much about the Russians and their way of life in this episode. It’s almost like a documentary, this show.
We’re back at Anna’s modeling school, where we see our heroine hard at work, watching her models practice yoga or something. She’s interrupted by Anastasia, who wants to make sure Anna is ok after last night’s fight. Or so she says. Anastasia tells Anna that Eddie is going to come to the studio – and Anna is having none of it! She didn’t find his apology sincere and doesn’t respect him.
Apparently Anna doesn’t know her place as a woman. “You should be happy he even said he was sorry to you,” says Anastasia. Well, she doesn’t say it to Anna’s face, she says it behind her back, but whatever. “When a Russian guy apologizes, it’s a big deal, because they honestly and genuinely mean it,” Anastasia goes on to explain, before tightening her corset, grabbing her parasol and heading towards her carriage.
But it turns out Anastasia and Eddie have been friends for 16 years, and her main purpose for visiting Anna in the studio wasn’t to make sure she was ok, but to set her up. Anastasia invites Eddie over, only to tell him that Anna “mentioned” she was still mad at him. Of course, she didn’t mention that she was the one who started the conversation, but whatever. That prompts Eddie to say, “Gossip is like the blood that runs through Russian women’s veins.” Oh, so that’s where that came from! Of course, Eddie only learns this while gossiping with Anastasia.
Eddie: So I guess that makes me a Russian woman, huh?
Well, since all Russian women gossip, Eddie isn’t surprised that Anna was talking about him behind his back. After asking what else Anna said, he learns from Anastasia that Anna also called him insincere and has no respect for him. Not cool, says Eddie. I’m gonna text Anna and tell her not to talk behind my back, no matter how much of a Russian or a woman she is. Women may gossip, but real men text.
Real men also don’t need to know how to spell.
“What else does a guy have to do to prove to a girl he’s sorry,” asks Eddie? Well, for starters, Ed, you may not want to send the girl you have a crush on threatening texts. It tends to dampen the mood.
Anna can’t be bothered with this drama. She does have a fashion show to plan, after all. But not Eddie. To help battle this horrible gossip problem that exists amongst Russian women, Eddie enlists his friend Albert to discuss this horrible epidemic that plagues the female race. They spend a whole segment complaining about gossip, well, more about women, really, offering every offensive stereotype there is about women and how they talk to each other. For example, women soooo can’t be bothered to stop texting gossip to each other long enough to get their nails done that they have to use their tongues to punch the keyboard, just like this:
They’re BOTH single, ladies.
Meanwhile, Anna visits Renata to ask for advice on how to handle the Eddie situation. Well, says Renata, in my country, you never, ever tell Russian man that he has no money. Or you get beheaded. That said, let us drink red wine out of coffee cups and pray you meet a husband so you no longer have to do this thing you call – what – work?
Next, Anna meets with her personal trainer to help keep her model physique in tip-top shape. She drags Anastasia and Diana with her. Diana hates the gym, but she’s there for the awesome catfight that’s about to break out between these two. Some people just can’t wait for it to come to the television screen. Anna gets Anastasia to admit that she told Eddie what she said, which results in a screaming match between the two. Anastasia feels she had every right to defend her friend, and Anna calls her “fake.” The claws never do come out, but it’s uncomfortable for Mike, the poor trainer who has to stand there and watch it:
Girls, if you’re going to fight in the gym, at least put on some boxing gloves and hit each other.
Diana tries to be the voice of reason: “Both of you are wrong. Just admit it, and that’s it.” But nobody cares what Diana thinks. Anastasia feels she tried to be Anna’s friend (yeah right), but she’s seen Anna’s true colors and she’s done with her now. That’s fine, says Anna, because I want nothing to do with Anastasia or Eddie. Finally, Anastasia storms out, followed by a very quiet Diana.
And that’s it. None of these people talk to each other ever again and the show gets cancelled, right? The end!
Wait, what? There’s still five minutes left? Ughhhh. Well, I guess Anna really didn’t have the last word. Nope, it’s the day of the fashion show and we have to see how this plays out. Anna is busy getting last-minute preparations in order for an event that could make or break her business. Meanwhile, Anastasia and Diana are home, discussing whether they should go to the fashion show. There is no way Anastasia is going to support someone she doesn’t like, so eff it. Well, says Diana, I don’t want to go either, but I’m going to be nice and go anyway. Then we can gossip all about it!
Finally, it’s showtime! Everyone Anna loves shows up, including her parents and Grandmother. Ready to play hostess, Renata is escorted by her husband Boris. Anna’s sister, Dasha, helps calm Anna’s nerves backstage. You don’t understand, says Anna, this is the first show since I’ve opened the school, so it’s a big deal.
Yeah, to you, maybe. Nobody else cares.
But the big question is, “Will Eddie suck it up and go?” Yep. Before you can blink, Eddie arrives on the red carpet with Albert. Seriously, there’s a red carpet. And what looks like press. Eddie decides to attend the fashion show because “it was the right thing to do” and he “wanted to be the bigger man.” Plus he wants to get into Anna’s pants, but who’s counting? Still, it was nice he came out to support. Diana is there, too. But what about Anastasia?
So… You come here often?
I won’t keep you waiting. She skips it. Duh, she said she would. When Dasha tells Anna that everyone but Anastasia shows up, she calls her disgusting. She can’t believe Anastasia didn’t show up but Eddie did – Anastasia knew how much this show meant to her!
Um, yeah, but she hates you, remember?
But on the bright side, Anastasia is making Eddie look pretty good right now. And that makes getting into her pants look pretty good right now, too.
It’s time for the show! The girls walk down the runway in Brighton Beach-chic attire, staring blankly ahead. Hey, they were taught how to pose, not how to act. Who they’re wearing we’ll never know, but it exciting for Anna nonetheless. She runs around backstage, screaming at people and stressing over every little detail. When it’s over, Anna considers the experience a success, even though spectators call the show “raw” and feel she has a lot to learn. You say tomato, Anna says toe-mat-oh.
Hey, at 22, Anna is a self-made woman. And as anyone who’s had to start from nothing knows, it’s not an easy feat. Her mom is so proud, and Anna says seeing her mom smiling is one of the best feelings she’s felt in a long time. Anna would cry, but it would ruin her makeup. Of course, Anna’s mom still has complaints, but that’s to be expected in her culture:
Why can’t you just get married and have babies like all the other girls?
Even better, Eddie and Anna have made up – and he’s such a gentleman that not only does he congratulate Anna on a job well done, but he charmingly gives Anna’s mom a hug as well. Moms love that. Something tells me those two crazy kids have a chance of getting together yet.
On a final note, all the euphoria of a successful fashion show doesn’t hide the fact that Anastasia wasn’t there, and with an evil glint in her eye, Anna lets us know that she won’t let us forget it. As we fade into darkness, we’re left with one final image this episode:
Kind of looks like a headstone, doesn’t it?