“Russian Dolls” (9:30 p.m., Lifetime) is not the first attempt to clone “Jersey Shore,” but it could be the most watchable. Originally titled “Brighton Beach,” Lifetime’s new reality series examines the close-knit Russian-American community on the Brooklyn seashore.
As on so many other reality series, the emphasis is on the dating and shopping habits of young unmarried women. Despite the best (or worst) efforts of the show’s producers to keep the emphasis on sex, bling, money, plastic surgery and contrived rivalries, the bonds of family and culture tend to humanize these characters and redeem them from the crude minstrel show of “Jersey Shore” and its lesser imitators.
While particular to the Russian-American experience, this is essentially a first-generation American story, with all of its promise and heartbreak. The young women appear to be thoroughly assimilated and largely accent-less, filled with concern for jobs and professions. At the same time, they feel a need to marry and become a mother before turning 25, a pressure some find more bearable than others. And there’s also an implicit assumption on their parents’ part that they will marry within the community, forcing one young woman to break off matters with her “Spanish” boyfriend. And once married with children, there is a tug- of-war between the Russian and American sides of each woman’s identity.
If the folks on “Jersey Shore” behave as if they’ve had their sense of shame surgically removed, these “Russian Dolls” are never afraid to share their conflicting feelings of ambition, gratitude and guilt.
In its earliest incarnation, “An American Family” from 1973 reality television promised to deliver a kind of anthropological study of its subjects. In its own shallow way, “Russian Dolls” returns to those roots. At the same time, it touches on themes dating to the “stick to your own kind” message explored in “West Side Story” and the shock of intermarriage and assimilation celebrated in “Abie’s Irish Rose,” a Broadway musical hit way back in 1922.
• Catch Henry Winkler as a very desperate doctor in the oddball sitcom parody “Children’s Hospital” (11 p.m., Cartoon Network). Not for the kids.
• “Titans” (9 p.m., CNBC) profiles former Chrysler chairman and “savior” Lee Iacocca.
Tonight’s other highlights
• A winner emerges on a two-hour helping of “So You Think You Can Dance” (7 p.m., Fox).
• “Make Me Superhuman” (8 p.m., National Geographic) profiles people with special powers.
• A Caribbean mission attracts attention on “Burn Notice” (8 p.m., USA).
• Botched robberies haunt Jane on “The Mentalist” (9 p.m., CBS).
• A curious quarantine on “Rookie Blue” (9 p.m., ABC).
• A nonprofit plays hardball with embezzlers on “Suits” (9 p.m., USA).
• Wilfred pushes the guilt button on “Wilfred” (9 p.m., FX).
• Mike and Snooki mull the next step on “Jersey Shore” (9 p.m., MTV).
• On two episodes of “Louie” (FX): a habit examined (9:30 p.m.), an unlikely reunion (10 p.m.).