Mob Wives, Married to Rock, Love & Hip-Hop

It’s not easy being in a relationship with a semi-famous person.

Promotional photo from Mob Wives
Mob Wives

Germs of ideas for Real Housewives-style shows drift through the Zeitgeist like so many fungal spores in the prevailing wind. If you can discover the proper subcultural sewing circle, you’ve got yourself a docu-soap addressing the theme of “belonging” in several senses. All you need are some second-hand celebrities with glamorous dreams, brazen social-climbing skills, and a certain vanity when it comes to their hair weaves. The E! network has done notable work in the genre with Married to Rock, starring the wives and girlfriends and perpetual fiances of Duff McKagan, Billy Duffy, and others of their leather-trousered ilk. Last season, there was an especially poignant moment between Etty (the wife of an amusingly domesticated Perry Farrell) and Josie (the better half of guitarist Steve Stevens). The spot of angst derived from Josie’s ultra-pink plans for her dream wedding—a ceremony planned to reflect Josie’s personal style, which is a look best defined as “Hello Kitty blow-up doll.” When Etty suggested that Josie turn the bridal party’s costumes down a few hues, Josie lamented to the camera, “I feel like she’s definitely pushing a beige agenda on me.” She pouted as best her pneumatic lips were able. While Married to Rock is sweet, the similar fare presented on VH1 has a way of mutating viciously as it explores issues of loyalty, sorority, and woman’s head-snapping inhumanity to woman. On Basketball Wives, VH1’s anthropologists have studied the rituals of inclusion particular to a clique that includes Shaq’s ex-wife and Antoine Walker’s ex-fiance, all while the network’s lawyers encouraged everyone to use the word allegedly when gossiping third-hand about road-game hook-ups. Witness a blunt confrontation with an outsider: “Amongst the wives, you’re a known groupie.” Marvel at the “intervention” the wives conduct with Royce, an unattached “ex-dancer for Miami and Orlando” after she booty-dances with conspicuous abandon at one of Ludacris’ pool parties. “I think there’s a misconception with me that I’m a gold-digger,” Royce says at one point. Her tone somehow suggests that she takes offense at the charge only because she’s actually mining for platinum. Then there’s VH1’s new-ish Love & Hip-Hop, where the dramatis personae include Chrissy (“rapper Jim Jones’ girlfriend”) and Emily (“rapper Fabolous’ girlfriend”). This one has an aquatic theme to it, with the ladies, proud hustlers all, frequently ogling men at poolside and talking trash on yachts. One afternoon, the Frying Pan—a bar on a boat on the Hudson—serves as the site of an eye-rolling showdown. In the aftermath, Olivia, formerly of 50 Cent’s record label, speaks of the effort it took to keep herself from addressing Somaya’s foolishness in the style to which she was once accustomed: “I was trying not to be in my G-Unit days because I wanted to punch the bitch in the face.”One doubts that the stars of VH1’s new Mob Wives (Sundays at 8 p.m. ET) would make similar efforts to practice such self-restraint. These, after all, are not mere gangsta-rap accessories but the spouses (and, often, also daughters) of convicted gangsters. Despite their differences in family background—Gambino, Colombo, etc.—the four of them speak with one voice, and that voice says things like, “I beat up a lot of fuckin’ people.”Thus, Mob Wives is like the real Real Housewives of New Jersey, whose table-flippers and finger-snappers can only pretend to the thrones these Mafia queens so effortlessly inhabit. The producers lay on the visual scheme with Barnumly panache, offering many moments where we watch the characters as if from the vantage of a wall-mounted security camera or through a telephoto lens during a stakeout, with the click of the shutter sweetening the soundtrack. The show is set largely on Staten Island, a famed mob redoubt and the only place in America more Jersey than Jersey. (Mob Wives is scored, appropriately, to creeping strings and sinister piano—a hip-hop rip-off of Staten Island’s Wu Tang Clan.) The star is Karen Gravano, daughter of Sammy the Bull. As the pilot opens, Karen is living in Phoenix, where she works as “a house mom at a strip club.” (Taking her work home with her, Karen practices making it rain with a stack of bills as one of her pink-thonged charges twirls around the pole mounted on her back deck.) But on the pretense of writing and researching a memoir, Karen is heading back across the Goethals Bridge like a princess restored from exile, returning to Shaolin. The shows asks, “Can she go home again?” And also, “What are you looking at?”