“This,” swoons Kamaliya, nodding towards the bemused falcon pacing skittishly up her arm, “is my daughter”. Kamaliya - sandblast-blonde, lips bulbous as two lacquered pigs' backs - stands in her cacophonous vestibule, one side adorned with wallpaper hewn from silk and gold and the other bearing a vaulted hearth like the north-east face of Gaudi's id, subtle as a slipper across the back of the calves. “I designed the decoration myself,” she divulges, somewhat unnecessarily. This is new FOX series Meet The Russians, a leer through the keyhole at perhaps the only sub-strata of society left unsullied and unexploited by television. Finally, we get to see what life’s like if you’re a Russian who is a) living in London, b) rich, and c) not quite as rich as some other Russians living in London.
The Smoke’s now home to some 300,000 Ruskis, a factoid the narrator wishes to impart calmly and objectively. “London is being INVADED!” he booms, all jowel-jiggling parochialism, before adding, marvellously, “Some of them are richer than the Queen!”, using a fiscal dipstick of no significance to anyone besides him and, perhaps, the Queen. “They even have their own festival ... the capital will be swarming with Russians.” At this point it's becoming difficult to hear him over the sharpening of bayonets and the the tink-tink of cans being furiously stockpiled. “The Russians are coming....”
Kamaliya, as it happens, IS coming. Her acting and music career - financed entirely to the bum-puckering tune of $20m by her doting steel magnate husband Zahoor - has wrung Kiev for all it's worth. Zahoor's belief in his wife is rather sweet, yet his is a countenance of reflexive matrimonial acquiescence - even his startled, sallow hairstyle somehow manages to whisper, “yes, dear.” Kamaliya guffaws, brandishing a gold and diamond-encrusted shotgun that Zahoor bought her for Valentine's day. “If you find another woman ... I can kill you!” “Haha..!?” Zahoor chuckles, masking the sound of his testes whooshing up between his shoulderblades. “Yes, dear,” his hair seems to say.
Meanwhile, “social queen” Alina is scurrying hither and thither organising the opening night of the week-long Russian festival, the abstractly titled ‘Russian Week’. A new frock is a must, obviously, so she trots to an exclusive boutique where she's presented with an array of possibilities, all united in their insistence on being appalling. Pastel trousers and matching waistcoat in a colour that can only be described as 'paedo magician blue'; a mucky-white, full-body Tubigrip dress like Miss Havisham's wedding night undergarms; broaches like wrestler's hands strewn across absolutely everything. It's all terrible. And £1800 a pop. Later, at the ballet itself, and not looking too bad considering her options, Alina's bristling. “We expect a lot of big names,” she boasts. Immediately, and as if solely to call her a liar, Nancy Del'olio's bosoms appear in the corner of the screen, shortly followed by Nancy Dell'olio.
We're gradually introduced to the rest of the supporting cast, a largely unmemorable and homogenous clan of prim, frumpy fashionistas, handily catalogued by the number of marriages they've ended. Only Dmitry, possibly the most effervescent individual ever to gambol up Old Compton Street in a pair of vertiginously-heeled Cubans, manages to stick his quiff above the preening parapet of peroxide. Dmitry came to London seeking its liberal attitudes to homosexuality, having become disillusioned with his home country's increasingly backward stance, and his infectious enthusiasm for his newfound freedom are more than a little touching. His Cheshire-grinned appearances throughout the episode are its highlights, and do little to dissuade you from the feeling that he would possibly be the most fun person to go out on the piss with ever.
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Like Dmitry's, each back story contains some measure of loss or triumph over adversity: some were forced here by threats to their safety at home; some, like Dmitry, sought Britain's liberal attitudes; while others rose from poverty and take nothing they've attained for granted. Only Kamaliya seems naive to her good fortune; a 36-year old end result of what happens to a child if money is no object and they’re never, ever told to shut up. Despite this, and despite having the cognitive wherewithal of a box of cocks, even she manages to be endearing. “I love clotheses, I love dresses, I love shoeses,” she beams. It's like the voice of Smeagol wheezing out of the circular, gawping mouth-hole of a premium blow-up companion.
The episode ends with the final night of Russian Week, and Alina’s organised a banquet, promising “high-profile individuals from the world of politics, culture, and fashion”. Immediately, and as if solely to call her a liar, up pops the ex-finacee of Roman Abramovich's daughter and scrotum-faced, habit-clad Eurovision caterwaul enthusiasts Buranovskiye Babushki.
Quite what we're supposed to take from all this is unclear. You’re left with two dull realisations: rich Russians, much like rich anyones, spend their money on things that make them look absurd; and, generally, they’re quite nice people. We’ve learned literally nothing else. At their best, documentaries of this ilk open a doorway to lives with which us beige, Wotsit-chinned muggles would never cross paths. They can be fascinating, horrifying, or allow us to sneer at idiots we perceive to be, in some self-gratifying way, less than ourselves, all from the comfort of our couches and oldest, crappest pants. Above all else, reality TV needs to be interesting. Meet The Russians portrays pleasant, rich – not wealthy, which would be interesting – people going about their business. It's a non-niche of society, its portrayal on TV unnecessary, and it's all a bit dull.
And, if a fly-on-the-wall doc leaves you pining for the veneered arseholery of Made In Chelsea, the staged knobbery of TOWIE, or the faux-educational down-the-nose bastardry of Gypsy Weddings, the only conclusion to draw is that perhaps this wasn’t a sub-strata of society worth probing after all.
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Meet the Russians airs tonight at 9pm on FOX