It was a joke my father told me he once heard a hooker shout out from her corner:
“The fucking’s free — it’s the room that’ll set ya back fifty dollars!”
Let’s just say that line proved all to apt while watching Showtime’s Gigolos — an experience that at once managed to be trashily explicit and lamely skittish about the prospect of men on-the-take letting cameras in on the action.
With virtually every other type of fame whore — aspiring actors, amateur models, celebrity chefs, cut-throat real estate agents, personal stylists, pampered trophy wives, and even lady hookers — having already been expended in the Reality TV landscape, I guess it was inevitable that male escorts would get their turn on the rack. Gigolos would probably feel more at home on Logo or Bravo, its presentation by Showtime justifying the strictly female clientele the men frequent. Male-on-male exploitation (the best kind) is apparently too taboo for even cable, and so we the audience are privy to what I would assume is the comparatively niche-marketed Straight Male Escort scene — Showtime’s cams following around five studs-for-hire from a Las Vegas escort service as they navigate the high-end sex worker circuit.
Here’s who’s on the menu:
Nick (The Dick): Thick-skulled, glower-faced Nick is, I guess, the most stereotypically tradey-looking of the lot, sporting just about every requisite studly trait — stubble, butch hair-cut, bared arms — on the checklist, including a massive tattoo that resembles either a welter of Lovecraftian tendrils or the unsettling root structure of a cursed tree on his shoulder. If you can trust a gigolo’s bio — and why wouldn’t you? — then Nick’s pretty damn generic: ex-high school jock, former military man, martial arts enthusiast, outdoor sports lover, inveterate ladies’ man, and world-traveler. Personality-wise, he has all the charm of a fire hydrant, and at times plays a little too competitive when it comes to being the agency’s top dawg — seeming to zone out into a dark place alternate reality a la Mulholland Dr. in which he’s a famed action movie star or UFC heavy-hitter who doesn’t have to toss his spent condom across the bed the second he pulls out. This is the guy…
Jimmy (Eat World): If Nick is slightly unsettling in his pent-up aggression, then Jimmy is frankly borderline terrifying in all his plastic unrealness. Boasting Ken Doll hair and a waxen quality reminiscent of no one so much as Christian Bale-as-Patrick Bateman, he affects a wholesome, ingratiating persona — former ski instructor, classically-trained musician, and youth musical arts programs volunteer (!) — that belies the simmering…evil…beneath the mask ready to slip. Shown going down on an ecstatic woman while her husband watches first in arousal and then in blank-eyed horror, he had me squirming in my seat whenever he was on screen. Hell, I practically shouted “If he starts in about Whitney Houston’s ‘The Greatest Love of All,’ run for the fucking door! He’s gonna eat you!” at the couple, images of Jimmy stalking naked down the hall in tennis shoes and a chainsaw haunting me for hours afterward.
Brace (Yourself For The Lizard King): Oy vey, this one. Hands-down the most tragic member of the cast has got to be Brace. I’m thinking Brace is in his early forties, but he could also be a revived mummy looking for the reincarnation of his great love, an Incan princess who’s currently embodied as a roadside day shift stripper. Seriously, dude is dessicated. He’s also one of those Jacks-of-All-Trades (read: frustrated dilettante) who’s dabbled in just everything: modeling, business, bodybuilding, martial arts, real estate, marketing a QVC hair tool (!), and nutrition. Why a Donald Trump– by way of Charlie Sheen-style Winner! like this would have to sell it on the side is obvious; Brace isn’t taking money from women — he’s giving the gift of Brace to them. That’s not buyer’s remorse you’re feeling, gals. It’s Brace withdrawal!
(I Know My First Name Is) Steven: Steven was the least offensive of the lineup for me. He’s the most reserved and well-spoken by about a mile — again, that’s a bar so low you wouldn’t even trip over it — and is the most adept at delivering acid barbs to the others. Steven, candidly, seems a little damaged to me; there were times where he almost looked to be on the brink of tears, and this Renee Zellweger-ish tic will appear on his face when he’s in close contact with prospective female buyers, suggesting he’s really having to phone it in while on duty. The lone father — of a five-year-old son — in the group, Steven is clearly the most exploited (“Unclean!”), which I sense will cast him as the series’s emotional anchor while all the other bitches fight over who has the best gym pump.
(Al) Vin (& The Dip Hunks): In a daring fit of inspiration, Vin is the first porn or porn-tangential player to adopt that pseudonym, and why Vin Diesel has more longevity as a porn name generator than he does as an actual actor is a mystery to me. Anyway, this Vin is the new ‘ho on the corner, making him the bright-eyed, new meat ingenue outsider just come to town. There’s not much going on with Vin other than the fact that he smiles a lot and never takes umbrage with the fact that the other guys have apparently never encountered a black man in their line of work, much more a bi…race…yal…? one, which leaves them all scratching their heads. “We decided to give Vin a place in our crew ’cause he’s black. I’ll say it,” articulates Nick, perfectly summing up the motivation for Vin’s tacked-on inclusion in the series-at-large as well.
I’ll admit that I’m more than a tad cynical about the veracity of any Reality TV presentation like this. Most reviews I’ve encountered focus on how porny the episodes play; I was struck by how phony the pilot rang. Here’s just a few of the suspensions of disbelief Gigolos expects from the viewer:
1. Money never exchanges hands on camera. To effectively dodge the law, the long-haired owner of the boys’ escort agency has his employees charge for their company. In other words, the ladies are paying for the room, not the dick. It all ends up making the men look like giving sex therapists or surrogates, the most awkward element of the sexual transaction totally omitted. Even the title is misleading; a gigolo is a kept man provided for by a lone wealthy female benefactor. Euphemisms aside, these guys are hustlers — top-line ones, but by-the-hour hustlers no less. There’s real for ya.
2. There are apparently all manner of otherwise vanilla single women, divorcees, and married couples who are happy to be front-and-center on camera as they get nailed from behind by the male cast members, no one worried about repercussions among their families, neighbors, and co-workers that will arise when their sexual escapades are nationally broadcast. As for the actual sex, it seems graphic, but deprived of the faux-verite framing and pretext it could easily pass for what you see in a typical soft-core Skinemax flick. The presence of two “story producers” — Reality TV parlance for “writers” — says it all.
3. A wealthy jill in need of a date to a charity event will waste however much time, money, and public exposure it requires to audition five men in person on camera, drive them around in a limo for pleasantries, and kick them to the curb rather than simply read profiles/testimonials online and book accordingly.
4. Nobody does porn. That’s right — not one of these five men do porn in tandem with escorting I count three name straight porn stars among the roster of men employed by their agency, yet a series focusing on sex work in a major city features nary a single cast member who uses porn as a business calling card. You’re gonna make it after all!
5. An upmarket pimp will not decide for himself who will be joining his stable; no, he’ll let the established boys on the block chat up a newbie and give him the yea or the neah on his inclusion. Sure.
6. Men employed at the same escort service hang out together all the time, doll. Not with any other rival escorts, just with each other as they frequent gyms, bars, and strip clubs. Why, you could almost swear that the quick cutting the series resorts to is a means of veiling the fact that these men have near-zero familiarity with one another, not to mention even less chemistry as they go through the motions of improvising a variation on the urban clique of well-heeled friends as established by Sex & The City.
Don’t feel bad, Gigolos. The tease was there, but the execution, well…
…the money’s on the dresser.
© 2011, Shawn Baker. All rights reserved. Nightcharm.com