Hello again my little babushkas. Are you ready for even more Russian stereotypes? I thought not. Well, Lifetime is going to give them to you anyway, so man up.
This week’s episode of “Russian Dolls” starts with another philosophical quote: “Russians always want more. They’re impossible to please.” -Diana
Well, whatever could Diana mean by that? I guess we’ll just have to watch to find out…
The first thing we hear is Anastasia talking to a friend over the phone. “Can you bring some tequila,” she asks, even before we get to know her! If I were her I’d have to get drunk to film this show too. But Anastasia’s deep tan and 80s pink lipstick tell us she’s more than just your average partier. During her on-camera confessional, we’re introduced to this immigrant and learn of her plight:
Meet Anastasia and her bitch face.
Here’s some facts about Anastasia, followed by my perceptions:
- Anastasia is 25-years-old, but she doesn’t look a day under 38.
- People think she’s a bitch when they first meet her (because of her “bitch face”), but when they get to know her, they think she’s actually a nice girl. Then they watch her on this television show and they realize their first instinct was probably right.
- Her family moved her to Brighton Beach from the Ukraine at the tender age of 3 in search of a better life for their daughter. And they gave up everything, including their careers. Her dad was a director of a psychiatric facility and her mom was an actress. Do you think they ever look at their bratty adult child, sigh and wonder whether it was worth it?
Totally worth it. I would be so pale if I still lived in the Ukraine.
What’s a reality show without a slice of life? Anastasia has her friends Eddie and Albert over for a few drinks. Together with her roommate Diana they down shots of vodka. “They say Russians are all alcoholics. We’re not alcoholics, but we do like to drink vodka,” she says. Thanks for derailing that stereotype. You totally made a great case for yourself there.
But Anastasia isn’t just your stereotypical Russian who drinks vodka. She’s also your stereotypical 20-something who likes to party in clubs and hot tubs. I believe if it’s fun, do it, she says. I don’t know. Does this look like fun to you?
Maybe I’m just getting old, but this does nothing for me.
But that’s all you’ll get of Anastasia in a bikini. While you may expect to see a stereotypical “Jersey Shore”-like episode showing Anastasia drunk and sleeping around, the show’s plot actually takes a surprising turn. Anastasia has been in college for five years, and she’s switched majors – again. She discusses her major change from political science to speech with her friends Diana and Eddie, but Eddie doesn’t get it. Why is it taking you so long, Eddie asks innocently. Because this is America dammit, and I have options, Anastasia rages! Man, Eddie should stop hanging out with these girls. They do nothing but yell at him all day. Too much stress.
Alright! Chill! Geez – women!
But Eddie has a right to be concerned. Anastasia has been in school for a long time, and this isn’t the first time she’s switched majors. Her parents pay for school – and she’s going to take full advantage of them it. Plus her parents promised her as long as she stays in school they’re going to take care of her – so she’ll be staying in school forever. Anastasia wants to make something of herself, she says. The irony is just so clear here – too bad she doesn’t see it.
But it’s partly her parent’s fault – her dad told her she should do what she loves, so she’s actually following HIS directions. Is there a career in partying? Nope. Guess we’ll just have to wait for her to grow up and decide. This could take a long time.
But not to worry, says Anastasia. I won’t be dropping out of college. Those who doubt me are just haters and they need to worry about themselves. She’s right – I better start re-evaluating my own life and career. And my make-up palate, because if we’re going to compare ourselves then I’m obviously not wearing enough eye-shadow.
Hey, says Eddie. I commend you, because most Russian women depend on men to support them. Oh no, I would never do that. I just depend on my parents, like most spoiled American girls. Again, the irony.
Well, thank the good Lord I will not be subjected to this chick the entire episode. The next scene features Renata, a lovely 46-year-old woman from the old country. In yet another slice-of-life scene, they show her jazzercising – but for good reason. “On this earth, I am determined to live every day as a beautiful person,” Renata says. And I believe it. Renata looks damn good for her age. I hope I look that good in 20 years. Oh, ok, fine. Ten years.
Don’t you wish your Russian escort was hot like me?
Renata came to America 20 years ago from Russia and is so grateful and happy to be living in Brighton Beach. Hear that, bitch face? Renata has class. Even when she was Anastasia’s age, she had class:
Meet Renata and her sweet hat.
Now let’s meet Boris, Renata’s husband. Boris is a shady character – not just because he looks like he’s part of the Russian mafia, but when we first see him they forget to light the bedroom and it’s really dark in there:
Meet Boris and his intimidating physique.
But Renata is turned on by the fact Boris looks like a Russian gangster. He can look very aggressive and tough, but inside, he’s my “cookie,” she says. At least, I think she said cookie. That was the one time they didn’t give her English subtitles. I’m not sure what cookie is Russian slang for.
Boris and Renata are the epitome of Russian stereotypes. They have strong accents and their relationship is that of a storybook Russian relationship, complete with a submissive, pretty wife and a big guy whose job description is very vague, which usually means you’re in the Russian mafia.
Renata has a lot of jobs, she explains. She hosts events and a local radio show. And it seems like Boris is always by her side. They are about to host a “very big” event – an opening of a new Russian restaurant called “A Thousand and One Nights.” Yep, that’s the name of the restaurant. But this isn’t just any hosting job. Renata and Boris have to sing for the first time – and she’s nervous. So what does Boris do to calm her nerves? Berate her. We cut to scenes of Boris criticizing her every move, calling parts of her rehearsal “no good.”
No! No! No! You are Sonny and I am Cher!
But while Renata looks slightly upset at the time, she takes it all in stride. “In Russian culture, for men to feel like a man, he needs to be in control.” So I guess she’s used to this. But Boris defends his actions. “I just want her to be perfect,” he says. No pressure. Plus, he needs this performance to be good so he can pimp her out on more gigs and make more money. “That’s a fact,” he says. I for one, have no problem with that. I mean, if Will Smith can pimp out his children to pay the mortgage, then why can’t Boris?
Renata understands he wants her to do well, but she doesn’t appreciate his teaching style. Actually, he’s a terrible teacher, she confesses – or more like whispers while looking over her shoulder. Boris shouldn’t talk. If anyone needs voice lessons, it’s him. And I can say that, because I write under a pseudonym and he’ll never be able to find me.
But enough of that. Let’s get back to Anastasia, because she’s young, stupid and far less interesting. She’s interviewed with Eddie, and they’re having a riveting conversation about partying. Anastasia actually prefers dinner and lounges to clubs, much to Eddie’s dismay. But then she goes to a lounge and has a couple drinks and wants to go to a club. Get what she did there? She contradicted herself. That’s comedy, folks!
Yeah, Eddie – I can’t believe they devoted an entire segment to this either.
Anastasia meets her mother, Ida, for dinner a few times a week, and I bet mommy pays for that too. According to Anastasia, her mom is always on her case. And it’s obvious, what with Ida asking her how she is and all. Well, says, Anastasia, I’ve changed majors again – for the third time. Okaaayyy, says Ida, very cautiously. Your father and I support you, buuuutttt we’re getting old, she says in broken English. We love you, she continues, buuuutttt we can’t support you your whole life. It’s time for you to be an adult and be responsible for your life, she finishes, as Anastasia stuffs her face.
You done yet?
OMG! Well, Anastasia doesn’t take too kindly to mom’s request. “My mom wants me to finish school, have a career, get married and have kids,” she says as though she’s been asked to sacrifice herself to the heavens. “Russian moms expect a lot out of their kids.” Now I don’t know about you, but my Polish mom and my Irish dad expected a just a tiny bit more out of me growing up, and I was expected to finish college in a decent amount of time and pay for my education myself. What mom doesn’t want her kid to do well for herself, and perhaps maybe pop out a couple of grandchildren? Apparently not any other parent Anastasia knows, because she thinks her mom has set the bar pretty high.
Anastasia has had it – she’s so tired of everyone treating her like some kind of loser! I’m not gonna throw your dream away, says Anastasia. I’m only 25, and what 25-year-old actually has to go to work and support a family? Just how fast do you expect me to grow up and take care of myself? You need to have a little faith and be more patient!
Anastasia promises her mom she’ll get a job and take care of herself – but only when she’s ready. Which, based on the current timeline, should be in about 17 years. Meanwhile, mom just sighs and downs her wine, knowing she’s lost the battle.
Um, waitress! There’s no vodka in my chardonnay!
The big event is coming up, so Renata wants to go check the venue out and see which room would be best for her husband to yell at her in. “I feel like Barbara Streisand,” she tells Boris when they arrive. She practices in the location, with Boris yelling “LOUD! LOUD! LOUD!” at her. If you not going to sing loud, then they not going to hear you. She tries it again. No! “LOUD! LOUD! From the gut,” he yells over her, pointing to his stomach. Or maybe his penis. I’m not sure.
I’m sorry. I can’t hear myself sing over all of this yelling.
After Boris stops her for the final time, Renata asks him why he has to be so critical. I’m already so nervous, I don’t need this crap, she says. Well, she would never say that to him, but I’m pretty sure that’s what she was thinking. OK, says Boris, “Think about it as a first-time sexual encounter with a person who you really want to do it. This would be pleasurable.”
Hmmm…. OK. How about Burt Reynolds?
Well, we’re back to another interview with Anastasia and Eddie. And just to show a time lapse, they’ve had them switch seats. My mom can’t accept I’m growing up, says Anastasia. (Actually, honey, yes she can, which is why she wants you to get a job.) Yeah, but that’s what mothers do with daughters, says Eddie. Boys have it easier. He follows it up with, ”You’re mommy’s little kukla,” which means little doll, according to the subtitle and charades.
Sounds like … bookla. Oh, I got it: hookah!
But at least Anastasia does something to steer herself in the right direction. She meets with a career counselor so she can finally stop second-guessing herself and make her parents proud. She tells Carmen, a career specialist, that she is double majoring in political science and speech, but she’s not 100% sure. Carmen feels discussing her strengths and weaknesses will help her determine Anastasia’s future. For her strengths, Anastasia says she TRYS to do several things all at once. Unfortunately, she doesn’t say whether that actually works for her. When Carmen asks her to describe her previous work experience, Anastasia says, “It was pretty interesting,” which actually means, “I don’t have any.” And what is she passionate about? Partying.
Are you for real, sweetheart?
So based on the two-minute interview, Carmen feels Anastasia should get married and pop out a few. No, I’m just kidding! Based on the fact that Anastasia makes excellent eye contact and she liked a college class that involved solving cases, Carmen feels she should go into law. Yes, I said law. OMG, I am so interested in that, says Anastasia. So remember this girl’s face, people – because one day you may need to contact her when you need to be sprung from the po-po!
Do you have thousands of dollars in unpaid parking tickets? Is your baby momma harping on you for missed child support payments? Do you feel that you have been wrongly accused of several DUI’s? If so, call me at 1-888-555-RUSSIANLAW! I can make all of your problems disappear!
Anastasia is thrilled with her future career! She honest to goodness thought Carmen was going to tell her she should be in the circus – or even worse: a nurse! I don’t want to be a nurse! I don’t want to be in the circus, Anastasia giggles, letting us in on the joke. I’m relieved, because half of the stuff the says comes out of left field, and I’m not quite certain Anastasia is all there sometimes.
Meanwhile, Renata meets with her friend Sveta at a Russian market because it’s the only place Boris doesn’t spy on her. (How do I know it’s a Russian market? Because of the large display of fish heads, silly!) Sveta is a good choice because she can be a tough cookie herself (oh, so she did say “cookie” earlier). Dressed in head-to-toe fur, Sveta sure does look pretty tough. Renata explains her problem, telling Sveta she’s so nervous about the ordeal that’s she’s even been practicing on Shura, her little dog.
Renata singing to Shura, who barks along to Renata’s shrieks.
Well, played, producers! That didn’t seem scripted at all!
Renata admits to Sveta she’s not the world’s strongest singer, but that’s not the problem. Boris is her coach, and he’s “a bit” aggressive. Renata even goes so far to compare him to the Russian KGB. Sveta understands. “Russian men like to be in control,” so Sveta knows Renata needs to handle this with kid gloves. Let him think he’s in control, says Sveta. Renata agrees to just tune him out next time he flips out. The next time he screams, jokes Sveta, just “put a cookie in his mouth,” and go on singing.
Just make sure that cookie is laced with arsenic first.
Instead of dinner this time, Anastasia’s mom is meeting her at a spa. Man, this kid has it made – well, except that she has to hang with her mother. But Anastasia is actually really excited to see her, because she’s SURE her mom will be happy for her, foreshadowing that mom will probably be pretty pissed. Of course, she knows mom won’t be happy, but she’s trying to be the best actress she can be right now.
Anastasia tells her mom she’s going into law, and instead of being happy, her mom expresses some concern over who is going to pay for law school. “I’ll take out loans,” says Anastasia. But who’s going to pay for the loans? “Me,” says Anastasia. I think “me” means “you” in Russian, because her mom still seems concerned. After expressing that she and Anastasia’s father have already put a ton of money into her education, Ida seems concerned about going into debt. Well, that does it. Anastasia tells her mom she’s pissing her off and she no longer wants to talk about it. Ok, mom says calmly, “I don’t want to piss you off. You’ll just have to pay loans by yourself.” End of conversation, right?
Well, that is the wrong thing to say to Anastasia. “I can’t talk to this woman about anything,” Anastasia confesses before going into a rage. I think she meant, “I can’t talk to this woman when I don’t get my way.” But the mood is ruined. Anastasia completely flies off the handle: telling her mom she doesn’t support her, swearing at her, bursting into tears and finally, calling her mother a bitch. Yes, she called her mother a bitch. Twice. Finally, Anastasia tells her mom she doesn’t like her and calls her a “mean person” who is always “putting her down.” Then, she kicks Ida out of the spa – but not before having her mom pay for their services, I’m sure. Poor Ida. She grabs her things and slinks away, but not before telling Anastasia how much she loves her. Having to get the last word in, Anastasia screams, “that’s not love” at her. Man, I hope I have a daughter just like her someday.
I think that mom should put a cookie in her mouth.
After a much needed commercial break, Anastasia returns home to Diana, who can tell Ana’s been crying.
Dude, your makeup is like, totally splotched.
Anastasia tells Diana the entire story – well, her version of it anyway. She does a horrible imitation of her mother, and she doesn’t even quote her correctly. “What about your loans? Who’s gonna pay for your loans?” quirps Anastasia – and I have to say, for someone who’s been living in a Russian household all of her life, you would think she would have the accent down a little better. But that doesn’t matter. Diana believes her version of the story and consoles her. “These dumb Russians,” Anastasia says, they always want more from us. Yes, she actually called her Russian elders dumb.
“It’s hard to be a Russian child,” agrees Diana. We have such high standards to live up to! Yeah, says Anastasia, and in an attempt to come up with funny material, she compares her life to that of a drug dealer. It’s like, if I were a drug dealer, and I were selling crack, and they were like, why don’t you sell marijuana instead, she says. Again, maybe I’m just old, but I don’t get the analogy. And since I am a writer, I’m forced to break this down a bit. You would think if you were a drug dealer and your parents wanted you to do better, they would rather you sell the drug that brings in the most money, so it wouldn’t make sense for you to switch from crack to marijuana. Or maybe they would just want you to better yourself and not sell drugs at all anymore.
These are the random thoughts I have during this stupid show.
But Diana clears it up. “Russian parents do have these high expectations and it almost feels like you can never please them,” she explains. Thank you, Diana, for expressing your thoughts in a smart and persuasive manner. I can’t wait for you to watch footage of the fight so you may offer us an argument to your opinion.
Still, we’re not done dealing with Anastasia’s problems yet. “What does your mom want you to do?” Diana asks. Anastasia thinks about it for a second. “Jump off a cliff and fly. She’s such a difficult woman.” And I believe her. I think Anastasia’s mother does want her to jump off a cliff. I’m just not sure she wants her to fly.
Once Anastasia has had time to calm down and redo her makeup, she basically says the same thing Diana did during her confessional. But she uses hand signals to prove her point. You can never see eye-to-eye with a Russian parent, she says. If you’re here, they want you to be here, she points out with her hands, one inching slightly above the higher. Actually, the way she explains it, it sounds like Russian kids have it pretty easy. My best friend’s parents are Asian, and they expected her to touch the ceiling when giving this same presentation. Of course, that presentation could only be given when she was periodically allowed out of her room during study breaks.
From the looks of it, I would say flight attendant would be a good career choice for her.
It is finally time for Renata to put Sveta’s plan into action. She tries on a dress for the show, but Boris tells her it’s too summery. Then he decides the boots don’t match the dress (they don’t, actually). He’s a regular Michael Kors, this guy. Knowing he just wants to control her, Renata brushes him off. Well, that’s a big no-no. “Put on another dress,” he demands as she walks away. Confused by her lack of response, Boris repeats his command, slightly louder. This time, Renata has a comeback. “It’s not a dress, it’s an outfit,” she dares to reply!
WHAT did you just say to me?
That’s what you would expect, right, possibly followed by a hefty beating? Well… nope. Instead, Boris goes back to his cell phone, sighing loudly and shaking his head. Women, you can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them, huh, Boris? Boris decided he’s so stressed out he needs to take a nap, implying he really is just a big baby after all.
It’s showtime – and time for our series of stereotypical Russian clips. The camera pans the party at the Russian restaurant, giving us glimpses of:
A Russian band.
Russian Dancers with scarves.
A Russian juggler who only juggles fire.
Russian dancers with candelabras.
A multi-tasking Russian juggler who also eats fire.
A Russian gangster.
Oh wait. That’s just Boris. Well, good to know he cleans up well. Finally, it is time to sing. And Renata is right – she’s not great. But she’s about 1000 times better than Boris. It’s painfully obvious that somebody rehearsed – and somebody else didn’t. Being a professional performer, Renata knows how to project, making her voice clear and loud while Boris just mumbles into the microphone. Couples dance and stare in horror at the dude.
If there’s anything you learn from this show, it’s that Russian people make good friends. When they finish, everyone claps and cheers wildly to show their support, and Renata is thrilled. But she can’t enjoy that feeling for too long. Almost immediately, Boris drags her into a room – you know, that room she scoped out earlier for him to yell at her in. “What? What did I do wrong?” asks Renata. “I tried so hard to explain to you things. This is just mind-boggling…” Boris starts, trying to appear intimidating before suddenly softening and continuing, “…how great you did, how sick it was, how happy I am, how beautiful you are! You were shining as a star, and this is just because of you.” Awww! NO ONE saw this coming!
Yeah, well, you sucked, honey.
You see, not everything is as it appears with Big Boris. Underneath it all, he’s just a big teddy bear with a soft spot for his pretty, sweet wife, who he loves so much! And Renata adores him too! After all, he is her little cookie. Boris is very critical, so it feels good to hear him actually say something nice to me, she says. Wow. I just hope I have a relationship like that someday!
We only have about a minute and a half of airtime left, so we need to see Anastasia make nice with her mom before the show ends. And she does. Anastasia invites her mom to her apartment to talk it out – not necessarily to apologize, but for her mom to understand why she blew up the way she did. Anastasia ain’t budging, so Ida has to start. I know we fought over loans, she says, but “I proud from you, because you very strong person.” See, mom, that’s why I’m going to school, to learn English! No, Anastasia understands, and she even apologizes herself and explains her actions. “I was just mad,” she says. If that was mad, then I hope I never see her angry. No, no, it was my fault too, says her mom. I sometimes push you, so I apologize too.
I love you mom. Now don’t touch my hair!
“It felt good to know that she was supportive and she was proud of me,” Anastasia later confesses. And Ida reveals this has never happened before, so at least we know this isn’t a common occurrence. Maybe Anastasia is a nice girl after all. Or maybe not: “I’m still thinking of going to law school,” she says over the closing credits. “But what if I don’t get into law school? What if I don’t want to work those hours? I’m very indecisive, you know.” Mom hugs her, as we close on her final thought: “Don’t do that mom, please!”
Yep, she’s back to her old self.