Saint Hoods: TV Review
Capitalizing on the popularity of the Whitey Bulger trial, Discovery's new docuseries takes a look at the turf wars among three South Boston crews.
Discovery is the latest cable channel to take up the challenge of producing a successful docuseries about South Boston. Saint Hoods, which follows the members of three crews in the areas of Southie, Roslindale and Dorchester, comes on the heels of two failures that cover roughly the same area: A&E's cartoonish Southie Rules and VH1's lamentable Wicked Single. The moderate success story of the bunch is the Donnie Wahlberg-produced law enforcement reality series Boston's Finest on TNT, which was recently picked up for a second season despite mostly flying under the radar. Perhaps the moral is that to have a successful show about Beantown, a hefty dose of Wahlberg is necessary.
Saint Hoods may not have that, but it does have Pat Nee, a contemporary and rival of the notorious Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger, currently on trial. Saint Hoods captures Nee on camera several times in the premiere episode, but the documentarians are quickly kicked out after asking Nee about Whitey. The moment illustrates how their presence is noted but, in a rare reality-show twist, unwelcome. For the most part, the production team rides along with members of various crews (almost all of whom look like actor Michael Chiklis) as they perform their day jobs as enforcers. There's also an attempt at transparency, with producers overheard asking questions, and camera operators being told to lower their equipment and stay out of the way.
Though faces are occasionally blurred and confrontations are often not filmed (only audio or the result -- like a TV flying through an upstairs window -- is shared), the show's initial documentary approach is compromised with the heavy inclusion of reenacted scenes that define and diminish the authenticity of Discovery's other series like Moonshiners and Amish Mafia. Like these shows, Saint Hoods gives a blanket acknowledgement that there will be scenes that are dramatizations (and that "identities and properties have been changed"), but when they occur, they create a tonal shift from the oral history that defines other aspects of the show. Though the scenes allow the portrayal of criminal activity (each on-camera personality is introduced by a rap sheet) without anyone having an issue with it, ultimately it's a misstep that puts Saint Hoods too much into the faux-drama territory of Southie Rules.
The gang activity of Saint Hoods is far less interesting than some of the vignettes related during the ride-alongs. Tales of how "I saw my brother stabbed in front of me and my ma robbed in front of me, so I learned how to take care of myself" that explain life growing up on the streets of South Boston are far more engaging than blustery confrontations that include quotables such as, "Call the cops? Call a hearse!" One member of the Dorchester crew describes the neighborhood's closeness as, "You can fart on Wednesday and by Friday the whole street knows about it." Later, a particularly colorful "Rozzie" crew member talks about the time he was arrested for mayhem, because though he was stabbed 21 times, he put his five attackers all in intensive care (he didn't do any jail time for the charge: "the stab wounds were all in my back").
Previews for episodes beyond the premiere do show the series potentially turning away from the streets toward more intercrew drama and other adventures (digging up buried treasure seems to be the focus of week two). If the show continues down that path, Saint Hoods might end up as just another forgettable Southie show. However, it is at least an opportunity to get to know some of the characters from the wrong side of the law, who could always end up making cameos on Boston's Finest next year.