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The Wahlburgers: The Best of Bad Reality TV?

Bob Chipman | 21 Apr 2014 12:00
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I promised myself I wasn't gonna watch this show...

Okay. I'm going to try and explain, from the inside, how Boston feels about The Wahlbergs. They are the acting "dynasty" that now comprises Academy Award-Nominated Caucasian Rapper Mark, Boy Band Heartthrob turned That Nice Boy on Your Grandma's Favorite TV Show Donnie and now Chef Paul, proprietor of area restaurant/reality-TV setting Wahlburgers.

Get it? Because a part of their name kind of sounds like part of the word "burger," y'see?

Boston (here a word meaning "the entirety of New England," because reasons) loves its native sons. Actually, Boston loves its native anything - as The Onion once perfectly summarized, Boston is a perfectly nice mid-sized city that likes to think of itself as a NY/LA-level megalopolis and is just belligerent enough about it that the rest of the country is mostly content to allow us our illusions.

We still love what remains of The Kennedys: early-60s ethnic pride at an Irish Catholic ascending to the Presidency having been absorbed by people of every ra... well, okay, every corresponding flavor of white people. We still hang on the success/failure of the Sawx and Pats even though they both went from Davids to Goliaths a decade ago. We're a city still of rigidly-defined race and class segregation that nonetheless solidifies into granite in the face of (even just perceived) outside aggression. Yeah, we know Tom Brady looked like a Giselle-whipped punk with that Bieber haircut, but we'll defend the HELL out of those frosted tips if some smarmy ESPN host takes a shot at him. And whatever you just heard that Ed Hardy'd bro at the bar say about the "f***in' liberal hipsters in Cambridge," do not repeat it if you ain't from here or said bro is liable to stomp your face into chowdah "for the honor" of the nearest visible set of half-decent legs attached to a BU sweater and a pair of black rims ("'specially if she's Asian, cuz Asian chicks ah wicked hawt, killah!")

And so too do we love The Wahlbergs, in no small part because they (Mark in particular) embody the city's idealized self-image: Snot-nosed blue-collar punks who can conquer the world while still peacocking a certain degree of old habits thuggery like a favorite t-shirt. Wahlburgers, now heading for a second season, is built on the assumption that this dynamic can be successfully translated to audiences nationwide - well, that and the spectacle of Mark Wahlberg either not caring or not grasping (it's hard to tell) that he's too much of a legit movie-star to be doing a "Famous Guy's Wacky Family" reality show.

Reality TV is all about editing real situations into sitcom premises, and the half-real premise of "Wahlburgers" is no exception. Homey, unassuming Paul (standing together, the Brothers Wahlberg look like a character study of a normal person gradually evolving into a Hollywood person) operates an upscale burger bar, which is stressful enough except his principal investors are his movie/TV star brothers!

Can these goofy guys feign difficulty in a venture guaranteed to profit off Mark's celebrity take their "family business" to the next level? Can Chef Paul keep it together while obvious producer-driven contrivances his ca-razy family keeps butting in?? Other "characters" include family Matriarch Alma, Donnie's girlfriend/insane has-been Jenny McCarthy and Mark's posse of townie hangers-on (the real-life inspirations for the worst thing that ever happened to television.)

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