Let’s Talk About the Huge Mess That Was ‘Southie Rules’

Photo courtesy of A&E

A&E premiered it’s new show “Southie Rules” on Tuesday night. The show centers on several generations of a single family all living in the same triple decker in South Boston. Previews of the show have made us alternately nervous and amused, but finally, two Boston staffers sat down to watch and discuss.

ERIC RANDALL: So … first impressions?

YIQING SHAO: Well, there’s no question that this is a scripted show. “Southie Rules” is basically “Modern Family” meets “Jersey Shore.”

ERIC: Right. It’s not as if this is new—other reality shows are obviously semi-scripted, and sometimes they do it artfully. But it’s actually shocking just how poorly the cast conceals that they’re delivering canned lines. I’ve watched and enjoyed my share of reality TV. This really does feel closer to a “mockumentary” in the style of “The Office” or “Modern Family” than it does to “Jersey Shore.”

YIQING: Except “The Office” and “Modern Family” don’t lead you to believe that they’re real. The promos for this show insinuated that it would be a “real” reality show that would represent Southie and address gentrification and so on and so forth. This set of personalities and plot are completely frivolous.

ERIC: Plus “Modern Family” often has plots that are less contrived than this pilot. The cast plays an absurd game of “bill roulette” during which they draw monthly bills out of a basket (which oddly appears to contain something like 150 pieces of mail), and each family member has to pay the bill that he draws. Few of them have any apparent source of income (except whatever A&E is paying them …), so they come up with bizarre ways to pay their bills—like making meatballs and forcing their friends to purchase them in bulk. If “bill roulette” is some kind of South Boston tradition that I missed, please do let me know.

YIQING: Oh, did you not know that bill roulette is a thing? No, it’s completely unrealistic. And the editors of the show did a terrible job of formulating any sort of believable story out of the pilot. That bill basket was massive and filled to the brim? So unrealistic.

ERIC: I will say this: The cast mate I most feared would descend into caricature, Devin the house bum, actually ended up the most endearing. Ads portray Devin as the “lovable mooch,” a weird dude who isn’t related to the rest of the cast, but who hangs around anyway. His role actually seems to be playing the smartest guy in the room, and I laughed aloud a couple times at his come-backs. It helps that he’s probably the best at delivering written lines as if they’re spontaneous.

YIQING: Devin definitely was the brighter character, especially in comparison to Jonathan and Matt. And it’s hard to tell whether they decided to caption him on purpose. His speech was perfectly normal, and yet they gave him subtitles … to what? Be funny or ironic? If this were Jersey Shore, he’d be Vinnie, the “smart” one. While I’m at it, I’ll also tentatively peg Matt and Jennifer as the Ronnie and Sammi of the bunch.

ERIC: I think they’re trying to turn Devin into Honey Boo Boo because they literally subtitle every word that comes out of his mouth. Maybe I’m immune to the regional accent, but I’m pretty sure that 90 to 100 percent of what he says is perfectly comprehensible, even to a non-local.

YIQING: Too bad A&E didn’t advertise this as a scripted show in the first place. Had I known what I was getting myself into, I might’ve been more receptive. Instead I think we were both immediately shocked by the horrendous acting—and if there was any doubt that the show was fictional, then the mortifying and improbable run-in between mother and son that serves as the episodes punchline surely made it clear.

ERIC: Right, if you’re going to do it, do it all the way and hire some writers. I could be convinced to watch a sitcom about Southie. Anyway, the good news here is that South Boston doesn’t have much to worry about in the way of becoming synonymous with its reality stars. I bet actual Jersey Shore residents have a tough time escaping the stereotype of their MTV counterparts. No viewer is going to mistake this for an unedited peak into the lives of Boston people.

YIQING: I agree.

ERIC: So, what do you say? Gonna come back for episode two?

YIQING: I’d rather toggle back to MTV and see if Vinnie’s new show centered around his Italian family is more entertaining. You?

ERIC: Morbid curiosity might bring me back to this one, but I’m not sure I’ll have much company.