Reality Bites

Reality Bites: South Beach Tow

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

You know, I don't ask for much. I'm happy to take this weekly bullet for the amusement and horror of Art Attack's readers, because it (usually) allows me an outlet for my more misanthropic tendencies and (occasionally) gives me an unexpected glimpse of something genuinely entertaining.

But I require a certain level of authenticity. So-called "reality" shows are carefully edited for maximum shock value, if not staged outright, but rarely have I come across something like South Beach Tow, which is more fake than Mickey Rourke's bout with Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania XXV.

Tow truck drivers rank just below "guy who shushes you at a golf tournament" and just above "piss boy" in popular perception. They're great when your car breaks down in the middle of chain-saw-massacre country, but the more usual interaction occurs when one of them drags our vehicle to a lot in a scenic area of the North Freeway because we parked for 90 seconds in a downtown McDonald's while going to pick up our wife.

I'm still pissed about that, and it was in 1999.

South Beach Tow follows the exploits of Tremont Towing, based in South Beach, Miami. One assumes the location was chosen to further deepen the contrast between the glamorous environs and the gritty, blue-collar work of these noble knights of the AIA. I suppose my sympathies might have been roused if the show featured more beneficial activities, like rescuing German tourists from freeway breakdowns, or helping a mother get her kids to school after a flat, but Tremont's business looks primarily to be repo jobs and occasionally pouncing on nearby scofflaws. The episode I caught made much hay of the departure of someone named Robbie, who I later learned was the son of the owner. Here, then, is a tale of pride, jealousy and paternal intransigence to rival the Bard himself.

What's that? He can get his job back if he re-obtains one of the company's biggest contracts (filched by those diabolical fiends at Finest Towing)? Fie on his foul Shylock of a father!

The thing is, there are probably some legitimately entertaining moments to be harvested from following tow truck drivers around and filming the shenanigans, COPS-style. Some of these incidents get pretty tense, leading to violently entertaining altercations (please, let's not kid ourselves about why anyone watches this stuff). You'll never know this from SBT, however, for not only are the towing events obviously staged, they're staged in a fashion reminiscent of the acting on late-night Cinemax.

Only without the boobs.

For starters, let's follow driver Bernice as she goes to pick up a Nissan Altima illegally parked in an alley. The owner looks (and is dressed) like T-Bone, Damon Wayans's character in Colors. He's also under house arrest, but claims he's meeting his PO, a story which falls apart when his annoyed girlfriend chucks his belongings out the window. He threatens Bernice with a bottle, which would make for serious documentary drama if the whole thing wasn't being captured from three separate camera angles.

That doesn't make Bernice's slamming him with a trash can lid any less gratifying, however.

The subplot running through the episode I watched involved a new company undercutting Tremont's contracts. Disturbing news indeed, if we could be bothered to dredge up a tear for these scumbags.

Back at the office, T-Bone's "official" girlfriend shows up, asking why his car was towed since he was "visiting his parole officer." J-Money, another driver who likes to -- I'm guessing -- freak the honeys, makes his move on the distraught woman. Rather than shove the morbidly obese Lothario away, she agrees to meet later. Because ladies love cool Jerome.

Next on the towing agenda is a Ford Fiesta which needs to be repossessed. They track it down at a local tattoo parlor but are -- surprise -- interrupted in the act by the owner, a heavily inked young lady in the attractive first stages of meth addiction. She and her girlfriend are willing to do *anything* to keep the car from getting towed, but driver Perez is an honorable man. Her reaction is as you'd expect: She jumps up on the car and shrieks at Perez while her friend eggs her on. Curiously, the police are nowhere to be found.

Finally, there's the dog walker who comes to the impound yard. With all her dogs. That's right, she somehow made it to each of the residences where all these dogs live without a car and walked them over to Tremont's office. For a nice final touch, she shuts several of them in the trunk as she's driving off. Somebody calls Animal Control, and then things get awesome. And by "awesome" I mean "eyeball-gougingly ridiculous." For example, I had no idea Dade County Animal Control was empowered to reach into someone's car and take their keys.

J-Money also apparently has a history with the woman from AC. He makes Smoove B look like Urkel.

The Tremont folks end up watching the dogs, and they do a bang-up job ensuring each canine is returned to its proper owner: "Oh, that one's mine!" Here's your dog, person I've never met with no supporting documentation. What fools these mortals be.

In what's probably the "best" moment in the show, J-Money is attempting to reconcile with the woman from Animal Control when T-Bone's girlfriend decides to show up. Finally, to go with all the rest of the bullshit, we get a fake chick fight.

Oh, and Perez is in cahoots with the new tow company. Et tu, Perez?

Like I said, I'm willing to put up with a lot of crap for your reading entertainment, but South Beach Tow isn't just garbage, it's poorly staged/acted garbage. It'd be more entertaining to pull up some lawn chairs a few blocks from Griff's on St. Patrick's Day and watch the real guys do their job.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar