American Gigolo Premiere Review: Episodes 1-3

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American Gigolo premieres Sept. 9 on SHO streaming/demand and Sept. 11 on Showtime.

Forty-two years ago, director Paul Schrader and actor Richard Gere broke pop culture with American Gigolo, their shamelessly sexy noir murder mystery set in the high-priced male escort business in Los Angeles. It featured Peak Gere as escort Julian Kay, full-frontal nudity (a first in mainstream films), hot Lauren Hutton as Michelle (her true love), and the elegant, sunny spots of southern California. California. Now, American Gigolo the series takes those main characters from the movie and reimagines them as played by Jon Bernthal and Gretchen Mol in a much sadder, unsexy tale these days. In fact, this American Gigolo might as well be bait and switch for anyone expecting to get the Bernthal peak using all of his potent on-screen seduction skills in a modern character study on the profession. Instead, it’s a convoluted, soapy redemption story about a man who was molested as a teenager and then groomed to become a sex worker.

Schrader’s film ends as Gere’s Julian Kay escapes a murder charge when his lover Michelle (Hutton) lies to the cops and covers it up as an alibi. The series picks up in 2006, with Bernthal as Julian (birth name: John) accused of murdering a client he wakes up next to but can’t remember how he got there or what happened. . Encouraged to confess, he is sent to prison where he is haunted by the unknown of what happened that fateful night, which was the incendiary climax of his fast-paced life as a high-priced Los Angeles gigolo. Fifteen years into his sentence, Detective Joan Sunday (Rosie O’Donnell) shows up to let him know he’s a free man because a serial killer has confessed to the murder and DNA confirms it. . She admits it was biased and shoddy police work that ruined her life, but that’s life!

With his name reclaimed from John, he returns to the dark desert origins of his life, where he was raised fatherless in a trailer park with his twisted mother and a neighbor who sexually abused him in his early teens. Going back to its past triggers, the irritating structure of flashbacks in the show’s flashbacks draws on John’s fractured memories to weave together the patchwork eras of his strange life. As a teenager, he is groomed to be a male escort by a woman named Olga who renames him Julian. As an adult, he “meets cute” on a beach Michelle Stratton (Mol), who will be the love of his life but inaccessible due to her wealthy and controlling husband. Right now, he’s seriously trying to reconnect with her, but she’s still married and messy with a troubled teenager. Their love for each other burns but only in memory. This leaves John with the question of what to do now: does he revert to his gigolo ways at the behest of his best friend and escort mate Lorenzo (Wayne Brady) or does he live a modest life in a Rundown beach hotel in Venice with its empathetic landlady, Lizzy (Yolonda Ross) and the clean dishes at the restaurant?

While the ’80s film aimed to create an appealing fantasy around Julian’s life and pursuits, however hedonistic and narcissistic they may have been, the series has no interest in making anything either in John’s life appears as sex positive. It is clear from Episode 1 that John’s story is a really sad, where he was exploited all his life. He was trained to be the perfect lover and listener for his clients although he was never able to receive what he offers: to be truly seen and loved by someone who can be with him. To Bernthal’s endless credit, it sells tragedy well, but the writing relies on him looking into mirrors, waves or even walls as it triggers flashbacks galore where we can see what’s going on. he thinks again and again. It’s clunky and overused in the first three episodes, and makes today’s John feel rather static and stuck reliving his past instead of being very proactive outside of the basics of life.

American Gigolo finds itself far too stretched to accommodate a cast of characters that aren’t particularly interesting.

Bernthal is allowed to perk up a bit in flashbacks with Michelle as they doe-eyed at each other at the start of the flirtation, which is backed up by mottled moments of spoken intimacy as they share truths about themselves during of their secret meetings. As for the rest of his clients, those are relegated to a clever edit in the first episode where we see glimpses of naked women he serves against the film’s signature song, “Call Me” by Blondie. It all seems pulled straight from Schrader’s film in tone and look, and then never organically repeated outside of the credits. It’s as if series creator/director David Hollander dangles a defiant carrot in his credits every episode that he takes away from the stung audience and instead adds chaste angst. It’s an odd choice that’s only exacerbated when the script spends way too much time by Episode 3 on a subplot involving Michelle’s teenage son. The writers work overtime to bond with John that seems genuinely specious, so much so that when Detective Sunday calls her “the Where’s Waldo from the crime scenes,” you can’t help but think she speaks for our dwindling patience. And if it goes where planned, it will be a banal revelation.

Much like Showtime’s other recent drama series, Your Honor, which suffered from soapy subplot syndrome, American Gigolo also finds itself far too stretched to accommodate a cast of characters that aren’t particularly interesting. Aside from scenes involving the characters of John, Lizzie the Landlord, or Detective Sunday, not everyone plays in familiar tropes and doesn’t get the best material to rise above. There’s definitely a twist at the end of Episode 3 for John, but at this point the show has been so diligent in challenging his former life as an escort that it only hints at more tragedies to come. Woo-hoo?

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