Gigolos

Gigolos debuts tonight on Showtime at 11 p.m. Eastern.

Showtime’s Gigolos is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a program that follows five pricey straight male prostitutes as they ply their trade in Las Vegas. I used to watch the HBO show Cathouse, about the employees of the Moonlite Bunnyranch, and was curious to see whether Gigolos would essentially be the same, only with the guys doing the hard work.

Well, sort of. Gigolos is like Cathouse in that the sex is graphic and straightforward. A sex-worker’s penis appears within the first minute or so of the series, and we see intercourse within the first several minutes. Like Cathouse, there’s a certain clinical feel to the sex, too: It’s mostly business and very little seduction, and as with Cathouse, you can't help but wonder who exactly these people are who are willing to be televised having sex that they purchased.

In the premiere episode we meet Garren James, the operator of the service, a normal-looking guy aside from his Steven Segal-type hair and clothing. Then we’re introduced to gigolo Nick and his penis. He’s a nice-looking if not devastatingly handsome guy from Wisconsin with pointy sideburns and a shoulder tattoo that looks like an insidious virus taking over his body. He makes $550 for two hours and $5,000 for a weekend with his clients. Nick meets a client who looks like a rather messy version of Busy Phillips who happened to set her makeup gun to “whore.” They make some awkward small talk at a restaurant and then retire to her room in a hotel that looks expensively tacky. They have sex in various positions, then kiss, and then he’s on his way to meet the other guys.

Gigolos is weakest when it tries to set the fellas up in little scenarios, such as when they meet at the bar to talk shit and pick up chicks. They’re like brothers, see, yet they also compete. Brace (yes, “Brace”) picks some ladies up by asking them whether they’re models and bragging about his lack of political correctness. I have a hard time imagining what woman would want to voluntarily have sex with Brace, let alone pay for the privilege. He looks like Siegfried Fischbacher, only without the money and the cool white tigers. The other guys don’t seem very threatened by Brace, and I don’t blame them.

Then we’re back to Garren, who informs us that he receives 50 employment requests a day. I would have loved to see these requests, which I imagine is something like a nude American Idol audition, but instead, we meet Vin Armani (think a slightly dorkier-looking Vin Diesel), a probationary member of the team who needs the approval of the other guys before he can get on board.

We get to know Steven, a former model who loves being a father and has a complicated relationship with his son’s mother. Not to sound completely superficial, but getting to know the gigolos is one of the least interesting parts of the show, either because it’s handled in a clumsy reality show way, or maybe because they’re just not that captivating. We never got to know the ladies of Cathouse that well, but what we did learn, it felt like we learned slowly, in bits and pieces that didn’t feel like scripted confessionals. A show that’s otherwise so explicit feels odd and stiff (that's what I said) when anything that feels additionally superficial is dropped in, like the scenes where the guys meet Vin and then later are each interviewed by a doyenne who wants the perfect date to a charity ball.

The second sex scene of the show occurs when gigolo Jimmy meets Rodney and Alice, a nice-and-normal-looking married couple who enjoy cuckolding/voyeur play (in the movie version of Gigolos, Rodney would be played by The Wire’s Isiah Whitlock, Jr.). After their consultation, they convene in a hotel room, where Alice changes into a bodystocking, and she and Jimmy get to work on the bed as Rodney observes from the couch, the couple calling out dirty things to each other. “Fuck yeah, you nasty bastard!” she hollers, and Rodney helpfully advises Jimmy to “break that ass.” “Oooh, happy birthday to me!” Alice, who has a tattoo that says “praise the Lord”, says at the end. The scene was oddly sweet, except for Jimmy, who explains his line of work thusly: “Just like a child, you are fully engaged, in the moment.” No, Jimmy. Not like a child. At all.

Later, all the guys are interviewed by Tessa, the lady who needs a date to the ball, in a pretty boring and bland scene (I won’t spoil it by telling you which guy she chooses, but it’s anticlimactic regardless.) She tells the winner that he has “great teeth,” which I think is the first thing you check when you are buying a horse, no?

The crew gives Vin the good news about whether he's in or not (though the answer should come as no surprise, since he’s in the credits) and whether he'll be there to give the group some flava (he’s a lightskinned man of mixed race). Tongue in cheek, he compares himself to Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson. Vin seems to be the only gigolo with an actual functioning sense of humor). 

And that’s it. If you like watching graphic sex but for some reason don’t want to actually watch porn, then Gigolos is a good bet for you. As a curious viewer, I still think Cathouse was much more interesting, not just for the sex but for seemingly depicting accurately what it’s like to work in a brothel, warts and all (no pun intended.) Gigolos sets out to be a reality series, but parts of it feel a little too shiny and glossy to be truly real, and that's a turnoff and a distraction: In the next episode, for instance, the guys cater to an overweight woman as well as a lady with gangbang fantasies, and all I could notice was how fake and rented their houses looked. The show could be pretty interesting if it weren’t for the scripted reality TV premises (in the next episode, too, they visit a psychic), but the fact that the producers need to give us these fake moments indicates that maybe being a professional gigolo isn’t as interesting as the show wants us to think it is. Maybe the producers think that potential female viewers need to connect with the gigolos in order to find the show sexy, but at least on my end, the only sexy part was good ol’ Rodney and Alice, who know that what they’re paying their gigolo to do, above all else, is leave when the job is done.

Stray observations:

  • In case you were wondering about the legality of gigoloing in Last Vegas, Garren informs Vin that he has to get the money before he gets down to business time, in order to stay within the parameters of the law.
  • Jimmy on Vin: “If he’s really black, he’s on ghetto time, so he’ll be 20 minutes late.” Hey, who doesn’t love a racist prostitute?
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