Reality Bites: Gypsy Sisters

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There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

When it comes right down to it, there are three types of reality shows. The first kind, those that attempt -- however weakly -- to instruct the audience about obscure or lesser known topics or demographics, tend to be the most entertaining. I watched at least three seasons of Deadliest Catch, for example, because I found the concept of drowning in arctic seas terrifying.

The second kind are "competition" shows, which can range from the engaging (Amazing Race, Top Chef) to the grotesque (The Swan, Big Brother).

The final category consists of programs whose only purpose is to get us to point and laugh and/or gape in mock disgust at the antics of a group of mostly unpleasant human beings. These require the least effort to produce, since the simple act of getting on the teevee still trumps common sense and minimal standards of decorum for many people. Not coincidentally, this is the fastest growing category.

Enter Gypsy Sisters, arguably the laziest, most cringeworthy bag of flaming dogshit plopped on America's doorstep by a network that still has the stones to call itself "The Learning Channel."

We've gone over the whole "these people aren't real Romanychal" thing before. To sum up, the individuals on this show self-identify as Romany/Gypsy, so if your contention is that "real Gypsies" don't act like these people, take it up with TLC and not your humble chronicler.

Gypsy Sisters, which follows a group of West Virginian sisters/cousins, is evidently a spin-off of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. I wasn't actively seeking to review it, but ended up drunkenly stumbling across it while recording Simpsons episodes. The rest is poorly enunciated history.

39-year old Nettie is "the matriarch" (I read that in Homer's voice: "Moe is their leader"). She has nine kids, perhaps to emphasize her point that "family is everything." And admittedly, that large a brood leaves time for little else. Nettie's sister is Mellie, who may be psychotic. They have another sister named JoAnn who presents as normal, except for the Mr. T levels of bling.

Helpfully. TLC has a guide to Gypsy fashion on the show's web page. Here's a taste:

Bling-bra tops, for example, are popular with gypsy teenagers. These tops are pretty much exactly what they sound like: sparkly bras worn without any other covering. Low-cut shirts and dresses with plunging necklines are also common -- especially with well-endowed gals.

As vibrant cultures go, these folks are right up there with the Juggalos.

But there are yet more sisters. Kayla (Nettie's cousin) has just left her husband. She figures since she's already broken so many "Romany rules" she might as well eschew the traditional gypsy pickup truck and buy a car. This rebellion takes the form of a generic white four-door sedan. You break those chains, girl. Wait, there's more: "I want to teach my girls that the older you get, the more mature you get, in your brain." Kayla immediately follows up this tidbit by telling her daughters she's going to New Orleans and party. For her brain, I guess.

JoAnn has also recently "found her voice," which could mean a) recent divorce or b) ending an 18-year vow of silence. I do find is amusing that the producers have elected to follow-up each introduction with a snippet of the woman in question screaming at someone off camera. JoAnn has a fine hollerin' voice indeed.

The title of The Episode I Watched ("Bottoms Up in the Big Easy") was unfortunately misleading in the extreme, and I would write a strong letter of protest if I thought there was anybody left in charge of programming at TLC who could still read. After the momentous decision is made for a girls' weekend to New Orleans (celebrating Nettie's birthday and Kayla's matrimonial emancipation), we spend the next half hour: a) following Mellie, Nettie, and JoAnn to a volunteer session at the local Humane Society; b) watching Mellie call her baby son a "fat bastard;" c) enjoying the interaction between Nettie and JoAnn as they pack; d) listening to the collective as they express their disdain for voodoo. Get to the fireworks factory already.

Fun fact: Mellie's son has the same name as Kayla's ex-husband. I think I figured out what the big season-ending surprise is going to be.

Finally, 30 minutes in to the infinite time loop of this show (actually an hour, relativity and all that), they finally make it to New Orleans, where the women are promptly freaked out by a "voodoo doll" in their rent house (note: actually a Dia de los Muertos figure) whose bobbling head caused at least two of the women to lose their shit. This is before going on the historic New Orleans history tour and asking the guide to take them "to the shopping."

At least Cafe Du Monde's beignets are well received: "they taste like funnel cake." Someone get Mellie a cooking show.

If you were in New Orleans recently and felt the collective IQ of the city drop by about 500 points, you must have been in town while they were filming. Example: they shriek in indignation about being served seafood (oysters and etoufee). In New Orleans. At Ralph and Kacoo's *seafood* fucking restaurant. Nettie and Kayla then proceed to get hammered to the point of paralysis, all while loudly yelling "Bitches!" back and forth. I understand this is how most women of distinction refer to each other in public.

Any other place in the world and these women would have spent the night in the tank, but this is New Orleans, where you can simultaneously vomit into a gutter while getting fellated on Bourbon Street and the police will turn a blind eye. Just don't urinate in public, or be black. But at the end, all of it -- the bar dancing, the near choking on tequila shots, the empty eyes fixed vacantly on the ruins of Western Civilization -- was too much to take, Congratulations, Gypsy Sisters; you may just be the worst show I've sat through in the seeming decade I've spent doing this column.

And that includes Gene Simmons Family Jewels.

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