"How is this legal?" I asked myself several times watching the premiere of Showtime's Gigolos (tonight, 11/10c). The show portrays five male workers in the slippery field of escorting. To many, the words "escort" and "gigolo" are euphemisms for "prostitute," but Garren James, the owner of the escort company Cowboys 4 Angels that's profiled on this show, draws the line early on to new hire Vin: "We are a companion service and clients pay a rate per hour. First thing you're gonna do is collect the money from the client and then from there, whatever happens between you two is two consenting adults. It's illegal for you to take any money after that for any sort of sexual services or whatever."
So, escorting theoretically is based on a loophole: you can pay for sex just as long as you pretend you're paying for companionship and do the money exchange up front. Gigolos, though, goes on to obliterate the pretense when we see a client jump escort Nick's bones within minutes of meeting. The services requested and rendered are made even further explicit when a married couple arranges for escort Jimmy to have sex with the wife with no trace of the foreplay of euphemism. A softcore scene of what appears to be hardcore sex ensues.
So what gives? How is it legal for Jimmy to walk into a room, get paid, have sex and leave, and why on Earth would he consent to do it on camera? The answer is simple: he wasn't paid. At the end of the show's credits, a typical porn disclaimer stating that everyone having sex on camera is of legal age pops up. Then, in small print at the bottom of the screen is: "No one depicted in this program was remunerated in exchange for engaging in sexual activity." So that's how they did it.
To portray escorting, Showtime had to strip it of an essential element: the exchange of funds. What made it to air is just highly orchestrated sex amongst consensual adults (after all, a pro-bono gigolo is just an attentive dude). Using a loophole to portray the loopholed world of male escorting makes Gigolos a double loophole all the way. Whoa. That's so intense.
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That's maybe the most fascinating thing about the Showtime reality series (whose realness is automatically demoted a few notches with the "remunerated" disclaimer). A few more stray observations from the premiere:
- This show represents among the very best and worst portrayals of men's treatment of women. On one hand, the 'los livelihood depends on being as sweet and respectful as possible to the women they encounter. On the other, they speak openly about their process of manipulation. Watching Gigolos, I thought of several alternate titles: Smarmy Lives, CrazySexyDouche and Extreme Douche-Uponing being among my favorites.
- The raciest thing about this show is the commentary on newbie Vin's skin color. In advance of the crew's first meeting with Vin, Nick muses, "If he's really black, he's on ghetto time, so he'll be 20 minutes late." Giggles fly on the racism of this statement. Then, after he sees mixed-race Vin's less-than-mahogany complexion, Nick notes, "Actually, he's more black...ish." Finally, when the guys "allow" Vin to join their women-pleasing crew, Nick explains, "We decided to give Vin a place in our crew 'cause he's black. I'll say it." At least all the racialism didn't lead to discrimination?
- Nick, by the way and per his Twitter, is recording an album. It's never too early to get excited.
- Brace yourself for Brace. He makes Snooki's orange complexion look positively designer imposter.
- The women who hire these men are the most fascinating on the show. We meet a two-toned haired teacher, a wife and a "really rich lady." Given the remunerating disclaimer, they presumably are agreeing to show their faces and admit their escorting habit to the world all for the sake of a free ride. You have to wonder how they'll end up paying for this. Everyone does eventually.
- Gigolos is a candid reality show a la The Real Housewives, and yet a competition breaks out anyway over who'll get to take on the "really rich lady" as a client. Dudes! Everything is a game to them!
- Jimmy: "Well, my parents don't know that I'm a gigolo." Now they do. Oops.