‘Wahl Street’: A movie star’s empire seems unstoppable — and then pandemic hits
Entertaining HBO Max docuseries watches Mark Wahlberg as he expands into fitness, cars and clothing between film roles.
Of the many Mark Wahlberg business and marketing endeavors showcased in the new six-part HBO limited documentary series “Wahl Street,” perhaps the most impressive of all is Mark Wahlberg getting his longtime premium cable partners to go along with a glorified extended infomercial for all of Mark Wahlberg’s business and marketing endeavors, starring and executive-produced by Mark Wahlberg. Ka-ching!
A six-part series available Thursday on HBO Max.
Yet here I am not only reviewing “Wahl Street” as a legitimate series but recommending it, even as I’m telling you this ain’t exactly high-end, prestige-project HBO programming. It’s like an extended episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous Workaholics.”
With Wahlberg (whose relationship with HBO goes back to “Entourage,” which was loosely based on his early years as a Hollywood star) front and center throughout the show and serving as an EP, there’s zero chance of objective journalism, but I found it consistently entertaining as an inside look at the frantic and complicated and ridiculously privileged life of an A-lister and his entourage of business associates as he forms alliances, considers new investments, run into speed bumps with existing franchises, squeezes in quality time with his wife and children and oh yes, flies around the world to star in action movies. That the timeframe starts just before the onset of the pandemic and then carries through the next several months adds layers of drama Walhberg and his production team couldn’t have foreseen when they started filming.
Episode One kicks off on April 7, 2020, as we see boarded-up windows and the empty offices of various Wahlberg business interests. Wahlberg is on the phone with an associate.
“How many of our [Wahlburger restaurant] stores are open?” he asks.
“None,” comes the reply.
Cut to several weeks earlier and we’re in the car with Wahlberg as he arrives at the premiere of his new movie “Spenser Confidential,” signing autographs and greeting the throngs of fans clamoring for his attention. Just another night in the life of an A-list movie star. Of course, even an A-list movie star’s life was about to change drastically with the onset of the pandemic.
In the first few episodes, the ubiquitous cameras follow Wahlberg as he talks about his plans to continue expanding his business interests; meets with associates about those interests, including fitness centers, an auto sales group, a production company and a new clothing line; putters about his enormous-even-for-a-Hollywood-star compound; checks in with his adoring and adorable children, and takes his private jet overseas to begin filming on his next movie, “Infinite.” (Throughout the series, the filmmakers employ the cheesy technique of cutting to a clip from a Wahlberg movie to reflect what’s happening in his life, e.g., when he gets some bad news, we see footage of him sliding off the boat in “A Perfect Storm.”)
In between 12-hour shoots, Wahlberg works out in the private gym he has transported to every movie location, FaceTimes with the family and takes video conference meetings with business associates. Once Wahlberg is back home, it’s more of the same: hustle, promote, take meetings, do a guest spot on a TV show, fly here and fly there, micro-manage, rinse and repeat. Yes, it’s a .0001% life, but there’s no denying the guy’s work ethic.
Episode 3 ends with audio of news reporters talking about the onset of the pandemic — and for the remainder of the series, Wahlberg and his associates face the same problems virtually every other business in America and around the world faced. In Wahlberg’s case, it’s stores closing, movie and TV production plans put on hold, workers sent home, tensions rising. Neither Wahlberg nor the show is so lacking in self-awareness that it tries to paint him as a victim at time when tens of thousands were sick and dying and millions were losing their jobs; after all, he and his family are quarantined in a house with a ‘backyard’ that resembles a resort, with full-length basketball court (complete with Boston Celtics logo), chipping and putting green and waterfalls on the pool. We know that as stressful as this is, he’ll pull through just fine.
At times the focus shifts to some of his business partners, who are NOT multi-millionaires and in some cases are risking everything to keep their interests afloat. The most relatable story is that of Lisa Sedlar, the CEO and founder of Green Zebra, a small but growing chain of healthy convenience stores in Oregon. Early in the series, Sedlar meets with Wahlberg at his home and Wahlberg travels to her Portland store, and it’s the beginning of a beautiful partnership and friendship — but then the pandemic hits, and everything changes for Sedlar and thousands of other small business operators who have to scale way back or close their doors.
That’s when “Wahl Street” hits home.