The bad, the worse and the ugly

Bravo's "Shahs of Sunset"


The bad, the worse and the ugly
by Gina Nahai

A painfully unappealing, unemployed woman in her late 30s with sumo wrestler thighs who wears 10-inch heels and a micro skirt to push around a pink stroller in which she carries her pair of Chihuahuas; a less unattractive, also unemployed woman in her late 30s who wears 10-inch heels and sequined tops to (I’m not kidding) target practice; a short, fat,  bald real-estate developer who builds cheap houses and expects to sell them in the instant for millions of dollars; a gay real-estate broker with a thick black mustache who touts the extraordinary vigor of his “Persian” male organ; a (we presume) heterosexual (what else?) real estate broker with gelled hair, swollen biceps and a nose job badly in need of a nose job.

The sumo girl insists in every scene that she “refuses” to get married, though evidence of any prospects is entirely absent; the gunslinger shares with the camera her hatred of “ants and ugly people,” and HGH (human growth hormone) man sprays cologne inside his shorts and tells tall tales about how he used to be a millionaire.

That, ladies and gentlemen, about sums up the first episode of the much-dreaded “Shahs of Sunset,” purportedly about Los Angeles’ Iranian-American community, which premiered March 11 on Bravo. To say that it’s “Bad” would be a redundancy, given that it’s a so-called “reality show.” These days, even the most trusting television viewer knows there’s nothing “real” about reality TV. As Time magazine put it six years ago, “Quotes are manufactured, crushes and feuds constructed out of whole cloth, episodes planned in multi-act ‘storyboards’ before taping, scenes stitched together out of footage shot days apart.”

Everything — from the characters’ wardrobes, to their speech, to their relationships, and even their homes and cars and purported millions — is dreamed up by “story editors” (read underpaid, non-unionized writers) and show producers. Reality television is just a more cheaply made, hastily manufactured and badly acted soap opera. It’s meant to appeal to the audience’s basest instincts — racism, voyeurism, willingness to suspend intelligent thinking — and to remind its critics that viewers get what they deserve. If it’s possible to lower that bar, this show surely does it.

The “Worse,” in the case of “The Shahs,” is that the producers have gone out of their way to put together a cast of unattractive, unsophisticated, unproductive and — you’re going to have to believe me on this — most unrepresentative-of-the original characters possible. It’s true that this is one program, and therefore just one creator’s point of view, and that no single creation can be fairly expected to reflect the entirety of a community that, like any other, is varied and complex and multidimensional. But it’s also true that this is the first mainstream production about Iranians in Los Angeles; for it to succeed, viewers would have to believe that it’s a close-enough rendition of the lives of average Iranians. And it consists entirely of every negative stereotype floating around this city about the community. All the women here are vain, stupid and spoiled; all the men are vain, stupid and spoiled. To see these characters, one would never imagine that an Iranian could engage in any profession other than selling real estate, or speak about anything other than looks, money and sex. We all go around wearing a floor-length, black and gold lamé dress with long sleeves and ruffles on a Saturday morning when we’re just kicking back in our tiny apartment; we travel to a friend’s pool party with our wardrobe consultant, hair dresser and makeup artist in tow; we gouge the eyes out of anyone who dares suggest that we shop at H&M; and when our mother calls us at work, we interrupt a meeting, put her on speaker phone and let everyone in the room listen in on our conversation about Shabbat dinner.

As for the “Ugly”...

I’ve thought long and hard about this — whether I’m so reproving of the show because it displays a truth I do not like to see, or because it makes our younger generation feel embarrassed about their parents’ community and cultural background. Our children know, as well as anyone, that there’s a great deal of antipathy on the part of non-Iranians in Los Angeles toward the rest of us, that the entire community is often blamed for the mistakes of one, that our accomplishments and contributions are frequently overlooked and our shortcomings amplified and exaggerated. Portrayals such as the one in this show will only exacerbate such tensions.

But what offends me so much about “The Shahs” is not that it reflects a reality that may be difficult to acknowledge; it’s that it makes such an obvious effort to cast its characters in the worst possible light. Granted, these actors might not have needed much persuading; we all know that some people will do anything, even humiliate themselves, just to be on television. Then again, this may be understandable, or at least forgivable, in someone with little education and no other means of making a living or finding self-worth. In people who have been given every kind of opportunity, including, as all these characters assert, a Beverly Hills High School education, a warm and supportive community, and parents and grandparents who have moved mountains, escaped war and disease and revolution, given up their ancestral home and reinvented themselves and their lives so that children can make something worthwhile of themselves — in these people, such abdication of grace and elegance is, I’m afraid, plain old ugly.

First published in

Gina Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her latest novel is “Caspian Rain” (MacAdam Cage, 2007). Her column appears monthly in The Journal.



I like it...

by JahanAmin on

Shahs of Sunset is a pretty realistic portrait of Iranian Americans. Looks wise, I'd say that the cast is above average considering the looks most Iranian Americans are unblessed with. At least the chicks aren't 5ft 3 with elf ears and huge noses, pretending to be so many Iranian girls. And at least the guys actually have careers instead of living at home and going into debt to lease that BMW.

As far as the opulance exhibited by the cast goes, I've seen a lot worse, and I'm sure Nahai has as well. Look at the bar/bat mitzvas or weddings within the Jewish community. Nessah Israel is the only synagogue I know of where the congregation is asked to tone down the gaudy opulance and materialism. To turn the cell phones off during services and to not dress like they're going to a club.

And as far as scandalous behaviors go, well, the cast can't compete with Namvar or Boodaie.

Personally, I think people who hate the show are either jealous they can't engage in such opulance, or feel like they're looking in a mirror and are seeing an uncomfortable reflection.



The cast of the Shah's of Sunset are getting famous by the 2nd

by fanoos on

while you guys are sitting around and criticizing their hair color, cloths, breast size, and what have you. Reza the gay guy has done more for Iran in the past 24 hours than all of you manly men in the past 33 years. You don't believe me just watch the video.  


I think those of you who don't like these people should be wearing Reza's brass around your necks, on your earlobes, and on your heads.


The only thing I did not

by koorosh10 on

The only thing I did not like about the show was the poor tiger in the cage. GG also should not have said I do not like ugly people. Other than that it was very entertaining. I will watch it again and if some one does not like it we have some thing called remote control. We also should not judge any body by the way they dress or their weight.  


usual Iranian paradox

by deev on

This show represents Iranians as much as Jersey Shore represents Italians, Snookie is not exactly model material and doesn't have a phd, yet it's her lack of refinement that is both endearing and ENTERTAINING, because lets face it folks, there is nothing amusing about a sophisticated bunch sitting around drinking tea reciting Shamloo in a capitalist country where TV shows are made to entertain in order to earn advertising revenue, so the more outlandish, scandalous and exaggerated it gets the more viewer ratings, now why is everyone expecting an educational show about the gloriously rich Iranian culture?

What you critics fail to see from your high horses is how the show represents many important Iranian values such as harmonious coexistence amongst different creeds and sexual orientations, close family bonds, or mehmoon navaazi. Frankly I'm disappointed by how shallow Gina Nahai's views are when she picks on the weight and appearance of her fellow Iranian women, it exhibits how a supposedly sophisticated published author is as concerned about skin deep beauty as the cast of show she is criticizing, such is the usual Iranian paradox.


I wholeheartedly concur with

by varjavand on

I wholeheartedly concur with Gina.I understand that is it a reality show and does not supposed
to represent the REALITIES! But since it is about Iranians, it will leave its off-putting
marks on our community, the external costs on the rest of us to say the least. Just as no American wants to be represented by
Snooki, I do not want to be represented by a bunch of young yuppies who have nothing to do but to boast about real estate deals and show up in sumptuous parties with fancy dress, $300 weird shoes, drinking fancy cocktails, and jumping in swing pool and pretend to have sex with a semi-naked lady in the middle of wrathful eyes of others.
And, airing it in the middle of this dismal economic time
when most of us work hard to make ends meet is indeed irresponsible.


Azam Nemati

Fake shahs

by Azam Nemati on

Fake shahs

Gina khanoum let’s start by telling you that I am a big fan of your writing and have read all your books, and Cry of the peacock is the one I always give as gifts.

You summed up what many of us are thinking about this group of unattractive, uneducated and unsophisticated Iranians (despite the designer labels laid out on display).

Ironically, months ago when the news leaked out that there was a reality about Persians to be featured on TV, my 25 year old son who is very well read and grounded, said: “mommy, I am sure they are going to exploit some obnoxious over the top superficial, Iranian gold diggers and make us all look bd.”

I was so made I waned to write Bravo and curse them out. There are so many beautiful, educated and really wonderful Persians and they had to feature such awful cast.

I was appalled that in this day and age a 30 year old woman is proud of being a free loader and is expecting a well do and (no doubt highly educated!) man to provide for her and we saw that she has no qualities to merit such lofty expectation.

The grossly fat Sammy is the one that got to me. Oh my god, does he ever look in the mirror? My stomach was not as big as his even when I was at the end of my last trimester.

What was up with the fat sumo lady? She said she spends more money on her bags than rent but I am not sure why she does not spend a few dollars on learning how to wear clothes that do not show her huge thighs and boobs.

The short one with the huge nose made me laugh for trying to show off his cheap girlfriend and made sure we knew there is plenty more where that came from.

Reza was just hilarious and pathetic. We had to see his collection of Gucci belts and jewelry laid out so he could pick a short and shirt for a pool party! I was so ashamed of him referring to another fellow Iranin as “loin cloth”.

The only one with who was just tolerable was Asa who at least was honest about her struggles and I like her quote about being “eternally homeless” as a refugee. Despite being unattractive, at least she is confident enough to try doing something with her life (even though the Tehrangeles song wasn’t that great).

I think if every Iranian who is offended by this show, writes to Bravo and ask that they replace these losers with young Iranian who actually resemble the people which the majorly of us know. I personally know very educated, attractive, compassionate and proud Iranians who happen to be young.

I am sure you all notice that not one of them mentioned having gone to college (they all mentioned Beverly Hills high school, only) or having a degree..


Pot. Kettle. Black.

by Naderi on

The author of this post should look in the mirror. Talk about a bitter Iranian, like most extreminst, sexually repressed Iranian women from Iran. Get some plastic surgery and then talk $%^&. Thanks.


American Iranians look better than Iranians in Iran

by NicholasRowe on

The women do. The women in Iranian are ugly. I've been there 5 times. The hottest Iranian women I have seen come from the USA or once lived in Iran and moved to the USA. Their emotionally insecure, yet but, looks wise they are much more attractive. In my opinion.


Gina, that's pretty harsh

by NicholasRowe on

considering you aren't attractive at all Lol

Ari Siletz

Get off their backs!

by Ari Siletz on

Everyone knows it's fake, as the article points out but then goes on to critique as though the opposite were true. Like "pro" wrestling, the worse it gets the better it is. That's the whole idea!

Oon Yaroo

Was there any sex scene in the 1st episode?

by Oon Yaroo on

BTW, in the scale of 1 to 10, where 1 being the least jealous & 10 being the most jealous, the author is 11!

She simply wants herself to be instead of one of the female cast members!

"..the producers have gone out of their way to put together a cast of unattractive, unsophisticated, unproductive .."


Typical hateful rants of a talabkaar Iranian.

by deev on

So the cast aren't the best and brightest but it's a show made to ENTERTAIN and not a Harvard lecture nor a beauty pageantry to expect intellectualism or angelic faces. The fact that we're now a demographic strong enough to have a dedicated show should bring us joy not hate.


we need a "like" button on posts

by sarshar45 on

"LIKE"..... and i completely agree with what FARAMARZ posted!

iraj khan


by iraj khan on

the show from an American perspective, it wasn't too bad.

Iranians were not portrayed as some anti-American suspicious characters living in U.S.

Iranians were not portrayed as some fanatic religious zealots.

Iranians were portrayed as 'smart' and as 'stupid' as any other new immigrants.

The formula was the same as any other 'Reality Show' for example characters 'getting off fancy limos', 'eating at fancy restaurants', 'attending fancy parties with a stripper in the mix', etc.

And of course their next stop is going to be Las Vegas, what a surprise!

Siamak Asadian

ای رهروان زندگی همبستگی ، همبستگی

Siamak Asadian

داداش فرامرز ، این حقیر هنوز که هنوزه از "ریدوندو بیچ" و بقیه جاهای باحال جنوب کالیفرنیا خاطرات  بسیار خوشی دارم. پیش خودمون بمونه ، زندگی در جنوب کالیفرنیا ازبهترین سالهای عمرم بود ، ولی این "بر و بچه ها"  آبروی ما رو بردن. اخه این چه مبارزیه که حتا بلد نبود دوتا تیر از هفت تیر خالی کنه؟ حالا به قول خودش هم از بچگی با اسلحه بزرگ شده بود و...

ما ز یاران چشم یاری داشتیم





پس همبستگی چی شد!

درود بر ایرانیان مبارز لس آنجلس 

Siamak Asadian

Watched the whole episode and concur with the author

by Siamak Asadian on

Thank god I escaped from LA long while ago. Do you have to be "high-brow" to get disappointed form the childish behaviour of people in their late 30's.

Did anyone see how easily these people would put down even their closest friends in their wedding day about the most cherished expereince of their lives(their wedding), only because they feel like losers, come form losers' families, and hang around with a bunch of like minded losers (the part about bride's maids dresses).

And WTF was that all about shopping at H&M, and calling your "friend" at the table, "living in the ghetto" because she probably lives in a rent controlled place.

And all that stupid condescension at the pool party about "ugly people," did they ever bother to look at themselves in the mirror? Just how much emotionally insecure and immature can you get?

We all pay attention to our attire, and how we look in public, and our wieght, hair,... but all of this does end up in the "appearance" dept. what about  other  parts of life? Are there any other parts to life other than, clothing, skin tone, hair,...?

Esfand Aashena

Faramarz jaan not2mention surgeons&astronauts live the same way!

by Esfand Aashena on

Everything is sacred


At Least Watch the Full Episode

by Faramarz on

This article was written 2 weeks ago and is based on the short clips and interviews of the show that were available then. It is better if people actually watch the show and then make comments.

It looks as if the high society, high-brow side of LA is not happy with the cheesy side of LA.

Get with it, not all Iranians are brain surgeons or astronauts!



by Yana on

shad zee




by Yana on

shad zee


Esfand Aashena

Ahh you're talking just like them!

by Esfand Aashena on

I read your article and the non-unionized Writers of the show whom you mentioned can use plenty from it!

This reminds me of the episode of Seinfeld where George and Jerry would rush home to watch Melrose Place but would deny even knowing about the show's existence!

More here. 

Everything is sacred


through careful research I

by hirre on

through careful research I have concluded that american-iranians are on a average what could be refered to as "ugly" comparing to other iranians....