Sigh. The good intentions come rolling off the screen in the new reality show “Breaking Boston.” The latest effort to parade the Boston accent in front of our nation — behind “Southie Rules,” “Wicked Single,” and “Wahlburgers” — follows four young working-class women who are trying hard to improve their lives. Each is struggling to shake off a history of bad choices involving drugs, alcohol, and troubled romances with irresponsible man-children who sport cool tattoos but cold eyes.
They want to “break good,” to borrow sloppily from the title, which, like “Breaking Amish,” borrows sloppily from the title “Breaking Bad,” which, if there is any justice in this world, will never, ever be borrowed from again.
And you have to root for the “Breaking Boston” characters, particularly since most reality shows that feature women with this much eyeliner usually involve backbiting, face slapping, and gossip mongering. They form a warm little support group, helping one another before and after job interviews and boyfriend face-offs. Were they friends before the show? Possibly not, but they make an honest effort to provide a safety net.
Valerie’s situation may be the most poignant. At 22, she is dogged by a history of DUIs and a short jail term. When she interviews for a job with philanthropist Christy Cashman in her Back Bay mansion, Valerie is an insecure mess, hyperaware of the stigma that comes with having a record. “I’ve never been in a house this big,” she says, then follows that with “My resumé sucks.” You will cringe for her. Her goal is to attend the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she has been accepted. When she tells her mother, her mother’s first reaction is, “How much?”
Kristina, 29, is trying to move on with a new guy, but he is wary of her bond with her ex-boyfriend, who continually calls her from jail. Noelle, 25, recently lost her brother in a car accident, and her boyfriend disappeared for a few weeks. She lives with her grieving, and very protective, mother. And Courtney, 25, is a single mother who lives with 14 other people. Produced by Mark Wahlberg, whose “Wahlburgers” draws decent ratings for A&E, “Breaking Boston” — which premieres Thursday night at 10 — repeatedly reinforces the theme that it’s never too late to start over. Only a crank would resist that message.
But here’s the thing, and it’s the same “But here’s the thing” that comes at the end of countless reality TV reviews.
The artificiality of the mechanics of the show undermines its effectiveness. Every scene seems staged to the hilt, every comment — even those made to the “diary-cam,” which has replaced the “Real World” confessional in the reality genre — feels coaxed and coached. When Kristina is happily lying in bed with her maybe-boyfriend (“You gotta earn that right,” he tells her), the phone rings and, of course, it’s her ex from prison. The timing is awful, as in perfect for TV.
When the product is a “Real Housewives”-type show, there’s no need for realness. The setup situations, the constant full-bore makeup, and the prefabricated outrage are all part of the entertainment. But when a show such as “Breaking Boston” appears, trying to be a feel-good message show, its power and currency largely depend on how believable it is. On that score, “Breaking Boston” is broke.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.