By KRISTEN GREEN ’14
Two years ago, a group of Wellesley News staffers embarked upon a pilgrimage to Wahlburgers. One year ago, we repeated the journey to Hingham, Mass., intent on continuing our support of the Wahlberg family’s entrepreneurial pursuits. The sounds of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s “Good Vibrations” again accompanied our drive to the idyllic strip mall where the Wahlberg family owns not one, but two, dining establishments. This year, we have yet to fulfill our Wahlburgers obligation, but, serendipitously, a new television show by A&E is granting us another opportunity to keep up with the Boston-based clan.
The first episode of “Wahlburgers,” appropriately named for Paul Wahlberg’s eatery, chronicles the family’s efforts to expand the franchise (I know!). While Donnie and Paul Wahlberg decide to establish a location in Boston, and spend a chunk of the episode searching for real estate in the city, younger brother Mark favors global expansion. What could have been enough drama to fuel an entire season of family feuds is (spoiler alert) resolved quickly in the Wahlberg universe. Mark eventually concedes to his brothers, and the clan sits down for a nice meal at Alma Nove, Paul’s other restaurant in Hingham. And herein lies the problem with “Wahlburgers” (the series, not the restaurant). Disputes are solved easily and without fanfare, so any drama seems disingenuous and manufactured. The show tries to create multiple sources of conflict throughout the first episode, but each attempt falls flat.
At one point, Wahlberg matriarch Alma becomes worried about Paul’s workload, and convinces him to hire an assistant. The assistant makes some half-hearted appearances throughout the episode. At one point she even makes two mooching family friends, Johnny Drama and Nacho Extreme, pay for the beers they order, but she mostly seems like an add-on character who ultimately fails to generate the drama producers intended.
Donnie and Mark make sporadic appearances throughout the first two episodes, so fans of the younger Wahlbergs may want to tune in. And each episode is peppered with charming anecdotes from the Wahlberg boys’ childhood growing up in Dorchester, Mass. In the first episode, “Who’s Your Favorite,” Nacho reminisces about meeting Mark. “The first time I met Mark, he jumped me,” Nacho remarks, reminding the audience of Mark’s violent teenage years with a lighthearted giggle.
Alma is another source of Wahlberg family stories, but her narratives tend to remind viewers of the Wahlbergs’ humble beginnings without sounding artificial or hokey. At the beginning of the first episode, “Who’s Your Favorite?” Alma and Paul take a trip to visit the family’s former home and Ms. Wahlberg reminisces over old photographs of the family, taking note of the new clothes her nine children wear in an old Easter photo, probably, she affirms, purchased with the help of a loan.
Alma seems to be the only character on the show who projects the kind of hometown-Boston vibe that Wahlburgers—the series and the restaurant—seeks to emanate. “Our Family. Our Story. Our Burgers” is the motto of the restaurant, where menu items include the Double Decker burger “like our friend’s house down the street,” attempts to hearken back to the good ol’ days of Dorchester. These attempts, however, never seemed to match the clean-cut strip mall locale of Wahlburgers. And the same could be said of the series if it weren’t for Alma. Funny, endearing and genuine, at least by reality television standards, Ms. Wahlberg makes the show.
“Wahlburgers” may not be a show anyone needs to watch religiously, and the narrative it presents of a typical Dorchester family that made it big falls flat. But, like the titular restaurant, “Wahlburgers” has its charms, and clips of the show would make an undoubtedly excellent contribution to the entertainment on the drive to Hingham, along with some “New Kids on the Block,” of course.
Kristen Green is a senior studying political science and Spanish. Follow her on Twitter @greengreen_kris.