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The Wahlburgers: The Best of Bad Reality TV?

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 21 Apr 2014 16:00
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It almost feels beside the point to criticize Wahlburgers for being stupid and contrived. It's Reality TV, stupid isn't a bug - it's a feature. The scrappy "going into business" drama is pure contrivance. The Wahlbergs already have another, "classy" restaurant, Alma Nove, literally across the street from Wahlburgers. The brothers' "We're still just a buncha knuckleheads gettin' knocked into shape by Ma!" schtick is just that. If you don't accept all this going in, chances are you're not watching to begin with.

The currency of this genre are the moments where authenticity breaks out through the kayfabe fakery, and in its better moments Wahlburgers has that when it counts. Most of the time. It helps that Paul really does seem to have nothing but contempt for having a camera in his face, which gives his exasperation a certain amount of verisimilitude, while Alma's reactions seem fairly genuine and Mark's "real life Entourage" really do seem like the most obnoxious pack of Massholes imaginable. My heart goes out, though, to the poor editors tasked with making McCarthy come off like a psychologically-functioning human being most of the time.

The most interesting spectacle, though, undeniably comes whenever Mark rolls back into the plot. Reality shows need pretend villains to go with their make-believe heroes, and Mark jumps into the role with workmanlike abandon that's vaguely admirable considering he's the only person involved with a major movie-star reputation to protect. It's not so much that he's malevolent, just that Wahlburgers' conceit of Paul as the beleaguered guy who "Just wants ta make hamburgah's!" means that Mark has to be the main catalyst for things getting in the way of that: The rich fancypants brother holding the money who swoops in on private jets, drops some new business-related indignity in Chef Paul's lap and then jets off to make Michael Bay movies. In one of Season One's mini-arcs, Paul cautiously warms up to the idea of franchising Whalburgers to maybe another location in the area, maybe Fenway Park only to have Mark (and Donnie) blindside him with a plan to open the next location in Toronto, Canada. Somewhat anticlimactically, a Fenway location will probably open this year, anyway.

I do wonder where, exactly, they plan to take the remaining 9 episodes of the show's original order from A&E - let alone what they might do beyond that point. There are 9 episodes of the show already produced, and to be honest about midway through you've basically got the gist of it. One imagines that "events" like the opening of Mark's Transformers movie or Donnie and Jenny's recent engagement will provide a certain amount of structure points. I can see it now. "Who's gonna watch tha' restaurant if I'm caterin' a weddin', Mahk??"

The burgers, incidentally, are actually pretty damn good. You kind of... almost want them to be bad, given the omnipresent gimmickry of the whole enterprise, but no - they put a good burger together. The ambience is a little strange, appearing to purposefully resemble a neighborhood sports bar that's been washed-over by gentrification (or bought out by a chain) and the kitschy references to the family's hardscrabble past (re: a sandwich topped with "government cheese") are quite silly, but there are worse things in life than a burger place with a full bar.

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