Monday, December 27, 2010

Review - Cathouse: What Men Don't Know (Episode 1)

Short review: The Bunnies know what they are doing. The men mostly don't.

At the Bunny Ranch
Are many skilled working girls
But men are clueless

Full review: Nevada has an unusual legal regime that permits legalized prostitution in regulated, licensed brothels. In 2005, HBO followed up its two successful single shot documentaries Cathouse (2002) and Cathouse 2: Back in the Saddle (2003) with a full blown documentary series focused on the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, located just outside of Carson City, Nevada, and thus Cathouse: The Series was born. Through some sort of arcane counting, Dennis Hof, the owner of the establishment, asserts that the most recent series airing is the ninth season. HBO seems to think that it is the third season. If you count the six specials that were aired in 2008, it seems to me like the current season is the fourth season. However, I'm not going to try to sort this out, for purposes of these reviews, I'll just number the episodes sequentially. Hence, this episode is simply episode one using my completely arbitrary counting methodology.

As a preface, I'll point out that though this is a television show, the Moonlite Bunny Ranch is a real, working establishment, and the women featured on the show are actual people working a legal, albeit very unusual job. Since the early episodes were shot in 2005, most of the women featured in them have long since moved on. Isabella Soprano, Shelly Dushell, Danielle, Air Force Amy, and Monica Morris, among others, are, as far as I know, no longer working at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch. I am not suggesting that anyone reading this might decide to go to sample the Ranch's offerings, but if anyone does, they should be aware that precious few of the women who are featured in the older episodes will still be around. I would suggest that anyone who does actually decide to make a journey to the Bunny Ranch should check their official (but eye wateringly cluttered) Moonlite Bunny Ranch website first (needless to say, the website is not safe for work).

While the main focus of the series is a sort of "behind the scenes" look at life inside a legal brothel, most of the episodes of the series try to have some sort of unique theme. The theme of the first episode "What Men Don't Know" appears to be "men are clueless when it comes to sex with women". The show, and the series, opens up like an actual brothel visit would probably be - with a sequence showing several scenes of men awkwardly and self-consciously entering the front door to be confronted with a lineup of scantily clad women and asked to pick one for a "party". Most of the men are, well, pretty nerdy, even the one who says he was "getting his John Wayne on" before he walked in the gate, and especially the poor guy who immediately asks if he can just go to the bar to drink up a little self-confidence.

The show then shifts to the thread that ties the episode together: Shelly Dushell and Isabella Soprano giving a class on how to please a woman to pretty much the same collection of guys who we saw in the intro. The first section is titled "Orgasms 101", and serves to pretty quickly show just how clueless some men are when dealing with the female anatomy. Isabella and Shelly try to set the men straight, pointing out that most men either do "too much or too little" and that most men need to slow down when they are with a woman, while interspersed with the classroom scenes are Bunnies talking about the shortcomings of some of their clients. In a deadpan interview that serves to quickly establish her as my favorite Bunny in the early shows, Karla explains that in her experience most men are lacking in oral skills, and then delivers one of the funniest lines in the series, almost apologetically saying she feels bad for whoever some of her clients are normally with, while Monica Morris follows this up by remembering a customer who used her nipples like he was playing a video game, demonstrating just how clueless some men really are when it comes to sex.

The episode moves on to the element of the show that probably drives the ratings: naked Bunnies having sex with customers. Since this is HBO, the scenes are merely R rated, and any actual sex is blurred. There is, however, plenty of nudity. After briefly introducing a married couple who had come to patronize the Ranch together, the action moves on to them having a non-threesome with Isabella Soprano. Oddly, for the first sex scene of the series, there is no sex. This begins a long-running theme of the show of "Bunnies as sex and relationship therapists", as the newly married couple asserts that they are considering having a threesome, but she isn't ready to take that plunge yet. Having Isabella Soprano give her husband a naked massage seems to be okay with her though. I don't recall this couple ever showing up again, leaving me to wonder if they ever did actually take the threesome plunge.

The action jumps back to the classroom, and Isabella and Shelly now explain to their still clueless students where the g-spot is, and how to stimulate it. This segues into a very strange sex scene in which Shelly and one of the class students have a small party where he demonstrates how much he learned about locating a woman's g-spot. The strangeness stems from the fact that both of them are almost entirely clothed through the whole scene, with the male participant dressed like he had just stepped off a construction site. Throughout this scene, I kept wondering how uncomfortable work boots must be in the bedroom. The show ;moves on to discussing sex toys, first showing Dennis and Madame Suzette placing an order to stock the Bunny Ranch toy store, then Danielle showing a potential client the wide selection available, and eventually moving to Air Force Amy pulling out her enormous arsenal of toys. Finally, we move back to the classroom with Isabella and Shelly to get a brief workshop about toys for women.

The episode caps off with the students heading off to try out their newly learned skills with the women of the house, and another sex scene featuring Isabella, this time with one of the students from her class intercut with commentary about how impressed the various working girls were with how well the men absorbed their lessons. Continuing with my minor obsession with clothes, I note that Isabella keeps a pair of half-gloves on during the sex scene (but nothing else), which I would think would have gotten in the way for certain activities. Most of the men state at one point or another in the episode that they are either married (one of them states that he had been married eight times, which seems to me to indicate a triumph of hope over experience) or have a "significant other". All those that do assert that they were sent to the Bunny Ranch by their spouses or girlfriends to get some tips on how to perform better.

Overall, this is a strange episode to launch the series with. Though the information provided is fairly interesting, the series had yet to really introduce the women and establish their personalities for the viewer. As a result, when someone like Karla, Monica Morris, Shelly Dushell, or even Air Force Amy shows up on camera, the new viewer doesn't really have any point of reference other than "random female talking head". There is very little information provided about the Bunny Ranch, or how it operates. Establishing the Bunnies as individuals first would have made this a much stronger start to the series. The episode also features very little in the way of off-the-cuff interactions. There are a couple scenes with Dennis talking to people in the parlor, but these mostly consist of Dennis delivering something akin to a lecture. In short, other than "these girls know a lot about sex" (which one would think would be pretty obvious), there isn't really much to this episode. The end result is an informative, but fairly bland episode that merely hints at the potential of a series that still needed to find its feet.

Subsequent episode reviewed: Anything Goes.

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