Editor’s Note: Welcome to our Reality AF column, where Terry Terrones checks in on the state of reality TV in its many forms.
When Family Karma first debuted on March 8, 2020 I didn’t quite know what I was in for. All I understood from the promos was that the docuseries focused on a group of Indian-American friends living in Florida figuring out life, love, and work.
Not that I needed the promos to give the series a shot. Bravo is home to some of my favorite reality shows (Top Chef, Below Deck, Watch What Happens Live, and 3 of the 57 Real Housewives.) so I would certainly take a peek at this new show. I was instantly hooked.
The cast is fantastic! There’s Brian (30), the charming and handsome party boy who still lives with his parents. He wants to find Mrs. Right but still has some growing up to do. Brian used to date Monica (30), who’s considered the perfect Indian girl by her community. Happy and upbeat, she’s a software specialist and an aspiring Bollywood choreographer. Monica is dating Rish (28), a restaurateur who feels pressured to get married from both his friend group and large family.
Anisha (37), who is sometimes a pot stirrer, thinks she’s finally found her Mr. Right but her new relationship has forced her to move across the country causing tension within the group. Amrit (35), an attorney, is working to overcome the challenges of being the first person in his community to be planning an interracial same-sex marriage. Bali (47), a divorced mother, manages to tow the line between the young, hip crowd and the mothers of her friends, who are lovingly called Aunties.
Then there’s Vishal (35) and Richa (35). The pair have been dating for 10 years and have a rockier relationship than Ross and Rachel from Friends. They’ve been engaged three (3!) times and Richa’s mom (Auntie Lopa) isn’t much of a fan of Vishal or his mother Reshma. They’ve finally figured things out, however, and the new season of Family Karma begins with their elaborate, three-day, Bollywood themed wedding in Cancun with 225 people attending.
Now if you haven’t seen Family Karma what I just described likely sounds par for the reality course. You’re probably saying to yourself, “I get it. Drama, drinking, young people. It’ll work.” But this series does much more than work. I’d argue that Family Karma is one of the best shows on Bravo. Here’s why:
1. It’s damn funny.
One of the major differences between Family Karma and other Bravo series is a majority of the people on the cast have known each other since childhood. They all live in a close knit community so they were essentially forced to be friends. They are clearly comfortable with each other, which means they also know how to tease each other and it’s a riot.
For example, in the Season 3 premiere that aired Sunday, Brian is making moves on Avni (37), a friend of Richa’s. Brian’s sweet talking Avni and thinks he’s making a good impression so he goes in for a kiss, but she turns away and he kisses her cheek. Evidently this is called “curving.” It was funny to watch but even more hilarious when the next morning Amrit, who has clearly heard about it, goes to say hello to Avni with a kiss before HE turns away and they both laugh. Those kinds of subtle jokes can only land when everyone in the cast knows each other well.
2. It’s an immigrant story.
Because many Indian families live together, you’ll have three entire generations of one family all in one house. And they are tight. In most reality shows, confessionals are just done with one person. In Family Karma, they often include the parents and sometimes grandparents of the main cast. This keeps the young group in check but also offers insight into their friendships you’d never normally get.
This also means this series isn’t just about young people having a good time partying. There is a lot of pressure in this community, like many immigrant communities, to do something with the opportunities the United States offers. There’s also the expectation to continue Indian traditions, which can be fascinating for those unfamiliar with them.
3. The cast is a blast.
The Family Karma cast is loaded with smart, fascinating, and humorous people with a strong work ethic and a deep connection to family. How would you NOT want to hang out with any of them? There are no Kathy Hiltons or Bethenny Frankels in this bunch. This is a great group of people.
I’d love to chat with sassy and funny Anisha and have her “spill the chai” (her saying, not mine) on the latest gossip. I’d love to have a guys night out with Brian, Amrit, and Vishal because they’re clearly tight and would be a good hang. I’d like Monica to give me dancing lessons, and to have lunch with her doting father, Raj, who seems like the sweetest guy in the world. And I’d love to talk to Bali but I’m pretty sure my wife would kill me for doing so because every time she’s on screen I’m always commenting on how gorgeous she is. This is a group of people that would be fun to meet and who are easy to root for, which makes watching them great TV.
4. It’s more real than reality.
Because of the long-standing friendships and deep family ties, Family Karma has authenticity. When Vishal and Bali have issues with each other, they are rooted in reality because they’ve known each other for 15 years. When Anisha makes a joke about Monica and Brian sleeping together in Season 1, it has long lasting implications on Anisha and Monica’s friendship that lasts to this day. Because of the depth of the relationships on this show, the emotions are real.
5. It’s poignant.
Sincere relationships aren’t the only positives that come from deep ties. Family Karma can also be immensely poignant. During the fifth episode of Season 2, Amrit insisted that he come out to his grandmother Nani before proposing to his longtime boyfriend, Nicholas. He wanted her blessing but he was terrified to tell her he was gay. During a 15-minute segment, Amrit tearfully explains how he’s in love with Nicholas and wants to marry him. It was honest, emotional, and had me in tears. It was a beautiful moment and rare for a reality series.
When Nani passed away shortly after Season 2 aired last summer Amrit posted this on his Instagram page. “I recently came out to my Nani. She passed away this morning. I’ll always wonder if I did the right thing. Rest peacefully, my angel. I hope I never caused you any sadness.” That’s powerful.
While it may not get as much attention as some of its contemporaries, if you’re looking for a hidden gem, Family Karma is must-see real TV, and hopefully a Bravo staple for years to come.
The third season of Family Karma airs Sundays on Bravo. Seasons 1 and 2 are available on Peacock.
Terry Terrones is a Television Critics Association and Critics Choice Association member, licensed drone pilot, and aspiring hand model.
When he’s not applying to be on Survivor, you can find him hiking in the mountains of Colorado. You can follow him on Twitter @terryterrones.
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