With smaller cable networks stepping up in the last few years and producing high-quality, original programming, we are living in a veritable Golden Age of television.
I wish I had the courage (and the brevity) to leave that as my entire review, but that would be irresponsible, or at least more irresponsible than I’m comfortable with. Plus it would deprive me of the opportunity to rant about Gigolos’ first season.
Let me start by bluntly stating that I am no fan of so-called “reality TV”, which to my mind falls into three basic categories. The first one is the competition model, in which “real” people compete for cash and glamourous prizes. These shows, which include American Idol, The Amazing Race, and Survivor, are a mere step or two away from the timeless game show model, are often well-produced (therefore expensive), and are generally more honest about the “reality” of their situations; the contestants are quite open about the ruthlessness needed to persevere in these competitions. In fact, just watch, at some point in every season of the above shows, at least one of the competitors will justify some heinous act by loudly announcing that they “didn’t come here to make friends”.
Next we have the “throw a bunch of people into a weird situation and see what happens” model. No, I don’t have a better name for it. This model includes the likes of Big Brother, The Real World, and any show in which people are forced to live like pioneers and grow their own wheat using oxen and the women are forced to make tampons out of corn husks.
The third category is the “these people are so fascinating that we must follow them around with a camera crew 24/7”. Feel free to switch out the word “fascinating” with a word of your own choosing. May I suggest a few options: “messed-up”, “freakish”, “shallow”, “repugnant”, and “horrible” are good starting points. This category includes The Osbornes, anything involving someone’s real housewives, and also any title that refers to the size of the people on the show or the number of children spawned by the adults on the show. This category is the cheapest to produce because all that is needed are a couple cameras and the crew to operate them. The crew follow their subjects around as they go about their business and just let the cameras roll. I imagine that the job of logging and editing the tapes that are spewed out by these cameras must be the place where bad production staff are sent as punishment. Like when John Larroquette is sent to a station in Alaska at the end of Stripes.
And the ultimate punishment in television-land has to be logging and editing the footage from Showtime’s Gigolos. This show manages to take everything tired and boring about reality television, and then it piles on a heaping layer of sadness and desperation. And to top it all off, it then throws in what I can only describe as horrible, horrible hardcore action (I must note that the “action” is technically softcore, as it shows no penetration and the naughtier bits are strategically hidden, often by objects in the foreground, as though we’ve suddenly found ourselves watching a deranged miscalculation in the Austin Powers series).
The premise of Gigolos is that we the viewers get a glimpse into the glamourous world of five male Las Vegas “escorts”. And when I say glamourous, naturally I mean “sad”. The five men are themselves a selection of types that could easily pass for some kind of misconceived boy-band reunion. There’s the sensitive (and almost certainly gay) one with a son for whom he’s paying child support and who he is always mentioning (which starts to come across like Waiting For Guffman’s Corky St. Clair talking about his never-present “wife”). Another of the guys is named “Brace”, Brace has the aging surfer dude thing going on, complete with bright orange leathery skin and a bleach blond faux-hawk. Rounding out the crew are Vin, the bald, Vin-Dieselesque new guy, and the other two, Nick and Jimmy, who are your basic generic pleasure models.
Now, to be honest, I only watched the first two out of eight episodes. If I’d watched a third there would be no amount of showering that could make me feel clean again. But let me walk you through the very first episode and give you my impressions.
The opening sequence features the guys doing guy stuff that plays like those old Docker ads. You know, just a bunch of dudes, working, playing pool wearing groovy vest and tie ensembles, and just basically being guys in Vegas. This is made extra clear to us because in the first five minutes of the episode, no less than three different people have announced, “it’s Vegas, baby!”, which seems to have become the rallying cry of the developmentally stunted douchebag.
We get an introduction to the guys and their “pimp”, and then we follow one of the gigolos to a job. The woman he meets is, to quote the note I made while viewing this episode, “TERRIFYING”. She has crazy eyes, blond hair, too much tan, and surgically altered old-lady lips. Also, she claims to be a teacher. Before long, they are engaged in a scene out of a porn movie, or at least an audition for said porn movie, with every element except actual shots of penetration. Later, another one of the guys takes on a job to satisfy a woman while her husband watches. The couple both claim to be IT techs.
Another “client” in the episode is a very wealthy woman who picks up each of the guys in her limo, so that she can interview them and choose one to escort her to a society event. During one of these interviews the guys asks her, and I am not making this up, what her sign is. That pretty much sums up the level of discourse on this show.
The scenes I just mentioned illustrate what I find most problematic about “reality” TV in general and about this show in particular. How “real” can someone be when they have a video camera in their face? I believe that no matter how naturally these people are trying to behave, there will always be an element of performance in everything they do. In Gigolos this is compounded by the question, “are these people who they claim to be and, if so, why in a million years would they allow themselves to be taped and broadcast on national TV?” If that lady is actually a teacher as she claims, is there any way in this world or any other that she would be allowed to keep her job? I think not. So it follows that the people featured on the show must be either actors or delusional lunatics.
In the end, however, this all had little meaning as I eventually curled up into a fetal position, repeating the words, “Please, please, oh please don’t cut to him banging her” over and over. In two of the three cases in episode one, my prayers went unanswered. And I will bear those scars the rest of my days.
By the time I was halfway through episode two, three things had become crystal clear: I would not be watching episode three, this show made me feel dirty, and it made me feel sad. I can understand the guilty-pleasure appeal these shows have for some individuals. I mean, there must be some reason so many people watch excreta like Jersey Shore and Keeping Up With The Kardashians. But since the time I watched five minutes of Toddlers and Tiaras, I couldn’t conceive a show existing that would hurt my soul more than that particular stain on the television landscape. Thank you, Gigolos, for shattering that illusion.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to begin a series of showers that should take me through the next few days.
Gigolos is presented in a 16:9 widescreen format that will fill your screen from corner to corner with images you will not want to see. Video quality is poor to average, with many scenes looking like they were shot with a VHS camcorder. There is a graininess to most of the footage, especially outdoor shots and some poorly lit indoor shots.
The disc’s audio is presented in English 5.0 Surround, English 2.0 Stereo, and Spanish Mono. There is nothing special to report here; the dialogue is pretty clear, which is the main thing you’re shooting for in this style of show. There is nothing showy about it, but it gets the job done.
The disc contains two “bonus features” and they are both of the “who cares” variety:
Biographies: Typical click and read feature containing bios of the five gigolos that sometimes read like an embellished resume turned in by an under-qualified job applicant.
Photo Gallery: I honestly just went to the trouble of googling “yawn emoticon”. The best Google could offer was this:
There’s really not much more to say, is there? Are you one of those people with a handy disconnect from the notion of empathy? Can you take gleeful pleasure in watching sad and desperate people engage in acts that propel them on a path that will likely crush their spirit and eventually spit them out the bottom of the porn industry? Then by all means, buy this disc. Are you a human being, with a soul? Then don’t.