Showtime’s Gigolos: women were paid to be on the weak show with an intriguing premise

Showtime is now airing Gigolos, a series about straight male escorts in Las Vegas. And while it’s pretty much the disaster you’d expect, it’s strangely fascinating–and amazingly, the nudity and sex is the least interesting part.

The real problem is that it’s just a low-rent show, one not worthy of the network that brought us Dexter and The United States of Tara. There’s comic potential; heck, Brace is bright orange. And there’s potential for an interesting sociological examination of this profession. But the show doesn’t quite go for either. (The fourth episode airs tonight at 11 p.m. ET.)

First, the sex: Gigolos tries to have it both ways by showing flashes of nudity and sex, but the camera often lingers with the action just out of the frame. Thus, it feels like soft core porn, and that is not a compliment. Showing sex isn’t inherently problematic, but the series tries to be graphic without showing much, and thus just feels stupid. It’s nothing that pay cable hasn’t done before, either with actors (Cinemax) or real people (HBO’s Real Sex).

Beyond that, instead of having the production values or storytelling of The Real Housewives, the show is kind of a half-assed version of it, following five male escorts who get hundreds of dollars to spend time with women but usually end up having sex. A lot of the show feels forced: the client interviewing all of the guys, for example, or the new guy being added to “the crew.” We’re used to soft-scripted docudramas like this that are heavily orchestrated, but it feels even more inauthentic here–especially the clients (more on them in a moment). Perhaps it’s just the editing or the awkwardness of having cameras in situations where they haven’t usually gone, but it’s not quite working.

What most interesting is the escorts’ emotional problems and the psychology of their job. Steven is the most complicated, given up by his parents and now struggling to support his kid, and seeking emotional connection with women he’s not attracted to and who pay him to have sex with them. His interviews are among the most intriguing because he’s somewhat introspective.

The homophobia is also interesting, especially because this is a show about straight escorts. (As Alessandra Stanley hilariously pointed out, “a look at women-only gigolos in Las Vegas is a little like a cooking show devoted entirely to vegan steak recipes.”)

In one episode, they have a four-way, but Brace–the orange spray-tanned escort who has no idea he looks ridiculously older than he actually is by trying to look young–doesn’t want any part of it. The new guy, Vin, calls him on it, and that’s interesting, especially since part of the conversation occurs while there’s still sexual activity going on. The series needs more scenes like this and fewer like the freaky fake-acting woman who caged an escort’s penis and seemed like she was the worst actor in a soft core porn film ever.

The big question the series leaves unanswered is why women like her would agree to be filmed. The answer is simple: They were paid. That also explains how the show is legal, because the women aren’t paying for sex, they’re being paid to be filmed having sex. So like porn, apparently.

Speaking of, the end credits include a section 2257 compliance statement, which is required of those who produce porn to prove that the people featured are of legal age. On the same screen, there’s another disclaimer: “No one depicted in this program was remunerated in exchange for engaging in sexual activity.”

But Garren James, who appears on the show and owns an escort agency,
told Salon, the women “were compensated. They definitely got compensated.” That’s for appearing on the show, not for having sex, though of course they appear on the show and have sex.

Speaking of that, Gigolos pretty much conflates escorting with prostitution, because they’re just getting together for sex. Las Vegas police spokesperson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal “They can play the line as loose as they want to, semantically, but they’re still violating the law.”

Gigolos: C+

Review: Married at First Sight

Marriage At First Sight

In an era of Tinder and Grindr, instant acceptance or dismissal of a potential partner, or instant sex with another body, Married at First Sight offers the thrill of watching strangers deal with the very basics of relationships.

Beyond the headline-grabbing premise, the series has turned out to be a stripped-down, authentic exploration of something very interesting. Read the full review.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.