American Colony Reveals Life in a Little-Known Hutterite Community
American Colony: Meet the Hutterites (Nat Geo Channel, 10pm) is a documentary series that's squeezed into an unscripted-reality format that is at its best when it avoids reality gimmicks.
American Colony focuses on the King Colony of just a few dozen Hutterites who live off the land in Montana. They observe Hutterite traditions - women, for instance, must wear a head covering and boys must leave school in their teens to work on the farm - but with a healthy dose of modern life thrown in, like cell phones and ATVs.
That's where the potential conflicts come in - the temptations of modern life.
American Colony mostly centers around Claudia, the teenage daughter of Bertha, a community martriarch who follows traditions but also, in the interest of her kids, allows them modern luxuries, like attending public school and texting.
The show is best when it delves into the realities of their lives. Bertha tells a heartbreaking story about the death of her husband. It anchors the entire series once the circumstances of his death, and the impact it has had on the family are revealed.
His death explains in part why Bertha lets Claudia get away with breaking some traditions, like putting on a tiny bit of eye makeup or, briefly, wearing her hair down.
American Colony sometimes plays it too safe by falling back on reality show stunts, like when some members of the colony speak to someone off camera or when artificial tensions are created.
By Hutterite life, and Bertha and Claudia, are so interesting that the show overcomes its flaws.