Television offerings categorized as “reality” can often be a Kardashian in sheep’s clothing. Does anyone believe that the housewives on Bravo are not mugging their preternaturally tan faces for the camera? Unless you’re watching a perp in beer-stained sweatpants on a rerun of “Cops,” it’s difficult to accept that real life has anything in common with the catfights, roses, bacchanalian parties, and battles of testosterone played out day after day.
Therefore, Mark Wahlberg has a steep challenge as executive producer of the reality show “Breaking Boston,” which debuts Thursday on A&E at 10 p.m. Do we trust our hometown hero to create a true (emphasis on true) and inspiring reality show about young women struggling to break destructive patterns? “Wicked Single,” “Wicked Fit,” and “Southie Rules,” have shown that Boston has a shaky record in the reality arena.
“Mark and I heard rumblings about different shows being cast in South Boston, with producers trying to make a ‘Jersey Shore’ here,” says producer Bill Thompson. “We talked about it and decided that we wanted to find real girls with real stories. We didn’t want to go to a casting director because, quite frankly, when girls go to a casting director, they’re putting on a show. We didn’t want ‘Jersey Shore: Boston.’ ”
The inspiration behind “Breaking Boston” comes from Wahlberg’s own life. The 42-year-old dropped out of school (finally earning his high school diploma last year), and as a teenager spent time in jail. It’s not entirely different from the problems faced by the women of “Breaking Boston.” The four, all in their 20s, have lived through violent relationships, substance abuse problems, single motherhood, and failed attempts at graduating high school.
The show picks up as the quartet tries to make substantial changes. Kristina DiLorenzo, 29, faced jail time when her ex-boyfriend was caught running a drug ring out of her home. She was acquitted, but finds it problematic to get her new boyfriend to commit with her ex calling her from jail.
Noelle Trudeau, 25, recently suffered the loss of her brother in a car accident and is hesitant to move out of her mother’s home and leave her alone. Courtney DeVoy is a 25-year-old single mom with a seventh-grade education who shares a house with 14 other people.
Valerie LaPaglia, 22, had two DUIs and a jail sentence on her record before she graduated high school. In the premiere, she’s been accepted into the University of Massachusetts Boston, but doesn’t know how she’ll pay for school. (A lower-profile cast member, Caitlin Norden, appears occasionally in the series.)
But these are not hardscrabble women who start fistfights or spend days tripping around in a vodka-induced stupor. These women sip wine while having heart-to-hearts with their mothers and visit their parents in very suburban South Shore homes to do their laundry. They are seemingly ordinary 20-somethings who made a couple of bad choices — or caught a bad break — and now find themselves trying to move ahead.
“Every girl, from Indiana to California, can relate,” DeVoy said last week as she and her costars sat down to talk about “Breaking.” “It’s everyday life that we all go through.”
The four women all knew each other to some degree before being chosen for the show. Now they seem incredibly close as they finish thoughts and sentences for one another. After each makes a comment or observation during the interview, there’s usually a round of “yeahs” and “all the time” from the others.
Judging from the first episode, and from listening to the cast talk, there are none of the usual roles or stereotypes so often foisted upon casts of reality shows. No one is “the party girl” or “the slut,” and although the show is filmed in Boston, the action could just as easily be taking place with Midwestern or Southern accents.
Casting, the women say, occurred primarily through word-of-mouth. Some, such as DeVoy, were very eager to get on TV and tell their story while looking for a fresh start. In the first episode, we see her applying to beauty school, unable to spell relatively simple words on a questionnaire.
But LaPaglia was dead set against revealing her record or putting herself and her problems on television.
“After the interviews [for the show], I got a call from Bill and he said he loved me, and I was like, ‘No thank you. I don’t want to do this,’ ” she said, pushing a strand of blond hair away from her face. “They kept asking, and I kept telling them no. Then I got a phone call from Mark, and he explained everything that he’s been through. He told me I should take this opportunity and told me that it wouldn’t be just another fighting, drinking, crazy reality show. I took his word for it and I’m glad I did.”
The topic of second chances is brought up over and over during the interview. It was what Wahlberg was aiming for, and, although it’s too early to know if they have achieved their goals, but they talk as if they’ve completed a successful self-help seminar.
With this kind of good will and supportive back-patting, it’s probably safe to assume that there will be no reunion show where the cast members talk smack about one another’s wardrobe or choice of boyfriends. All speak of life-changing transformations and cathartic developments. Sitting across from the four, it all seems surprisingly genuine.
“This show saved my life in a lot of ways,” DeVoy said. “It put me on a path of achievement. I don’t want to say that I was on a path of destruction, but I was literally going nowhere. If I didn’t have this show, I don’t know where I’d be right now.”Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.