Family Karma, Bravo’s new reality show about seven Indian-American friends navigating family expectations and personal dreams in Miami, is the kind of representation no one asked for. Within the first ten minutes of the pilot, the word marriage (and grandkids) is said so many times, it’s impossible to keep count. The talking head segments, which include cast members’ parents, exhibit a level of casual opulence that suggest an unfortunate kinship with Trump’s tax breaks for the wealthy. The inability of the straight men in the cast to complete basic adult tasks (like cooking, cleaning, or organizing their own lives) exudes an unadulterated firstborn son energy that screams “I need my future wife to also be my mom”.
Family Karma is essentially a show about all the popular-by-default kids you were forced to maintain friendships with at temple — except instead of growing up and forming their own relationships with their Indian-American identity, they’re stuck in a time loop where they never graduated high school and their Indianness is still directly defined by status in the community.
I’m happy to report arrested development multiplied by unnecessary wealth is a perfect recipe for deliciously disastrous reality TV.
In the two episodes screened for critics, a majority of the time is understandably spent setting the scene for white audiences. Indian-Americans (who grew up in Hindu households) will find shots of car poojas, dandia, and tiffin trays comforting and the attempts to explain the cultural significance of those things via talking heads truly hilarious.
The rest of the runtime is devoted to setting up the relationships between the cast members and their extended families, which is really where the strength of this series lies. Unlike most reality shows about a “group of friends”, this cast and their families actually do have generational ties to each other. As one the castmates says, “Our parents had arranged marriages, we had arranged friendships.” There’s an ominous sense of explosive history just around the corner, and the best scenes of Family Karma are when that history smacks headfirst into the present.
For example, a years old feud between two aunties — based on a game of she-said, she-said — is one of the factors keeping their children from getting married despite a two year engagement. (The main factor being Vishal, an adult man who is so happy he has washboard abs that he forgot to get a backbone, and as a result hasn’t gathered the courage to ask his future mother-in-law for her blessing.) There’s also Anisha, a 34 year-old fashion designer, whose family is for some reason mediating that fight.
Another cast member, Monica, is completely done with romantic overtures from Brian before they even begin because of a decade old unrequited crush. History has already taught her how fleeting his attention and beard line up can be. Bali, a two time divorcee, isn’t a regular auntie, she’s a cool auntie with a teen daughter, a tepid florist career, and white boyfriend. And while we’ve only seen her out with the main cast, trust that she knows everyone’s parents just as well, and it’s only a matter of time before there’s a slip up in front of the real aunties. This is a show with serious baggage, and if I tried to unpack it, I’d be standing in a hall of funhouse mirrors.
There are some wholesome beats to this narrative. Amrit is a gay man in a long distance relationship who is not only out, but accepted and loved by his family. Talking heads with Amrit’s family hint at a very difficult journey to acceptance for his parents, and delving into that relationship, laying out the baby steps needed to overcome religious and cultural stigma of queerness in the Indian community is blueprint desperately needed in pop culture. In fact, most of the wholesome beats of the show bloom through the parents of the cast rather than the main twenty-something cast itself. The older generation’s unique evolutions, prompted by who their diasporic kids grew up to be, is the clearer showcase of growth and resilience.
All in all, Family Karma is juicy and cathartic reality TV. If you’re white, you’ll love the outfits, you’ll learn some culture, and you’ll laugh at the drama. (Please take with several grains of salt.) If you’re desi, you’ll be smugly satisfied that you’re more grown than these cast members ever will be. (Which is in fact it’s own trap because there’s nothing more auntie-esque than deeming yourself more worthy than others.) Enjoy this new flavor of Bravolebrity guilt-free.
TV Guide Rating: 3/5
Family Karma premieres March 8 at 9/8c on Bravo.