Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Review - Cathouse: Cat Call (Episode 25)

Short review: The Bunny Ranch gets a whole bunch of new bunnies, and Brooke meets Dennis' new girlfriend.

Lots of new bunnies
Like Ally, Barbie, Jazzy
Who cares? Brooke is back

Full review: In December 2010 HBO came out with a new installment of their late night adult program Cathouse starting with the episode Cat Call. HBO calls it the start of the third season. Dennis Hof calls it the start of the ninth season. I would call it the start of the fourth season. No matter how you count seasons, by my reckoning it is the twenty-fifth episode since the program began running in series format. One thing this episode does demonstrate is that HBO wants to pack as much drama into one episode as it can. Whereas in previous seasons they would have likely split these topics up into multiple episodes, Cat Call features new girls coming to the Bunny Ranch and learning the ropes, the introduction of a new girlfriend for Dennis Hof, a pretty obviously staged confrontation between new girlfriend Cami Parker and old girlfriend Brooke Taylor, plus some bonus material in the form of the colossal ego of the train wreck that is Air Force Amy.

The episode opens with a topic that is the subject of recurring fascination for HBO: The induction of new bunnies into the sisterhood of legal prostitutes. The first scene is a brief sequence showing Madam Suzette in her office during which we are informed that the Bunny Ranch has over a thousand applications per month, but that she whittles that down to the top twenty or so and then schedules interviews to evaluate them. As she says, in that applicant pool, a girl has to be "drop dead gorgeous" to get her attention. Because of this, being pretty isn't enough - the key qualifications a girl has to display in her interview, we are told, is competitive spirit, interesting personality, and they have to have the fire to succeed. Dennis then says that he "doesn't usually get to do one-on-one interviews" but that Suzette had blocked out time in his schedule so he could do, umm, not one-on-one but rather American Idol style panel interviews with him, Madam Suzette and Air Force Amy filling in the Randy, Simon, and Paula roles.

Before we go any further, I'll note that the years that have elapsed since the first episodes from 2005 appear not to have been kind to Air Force Amy. Though I never found her appealing to begin with (and thus was never able to figure out how she was able to consistently be the top booker in the Bunny Ranch - for the record, if I had ever been given the choice between "sex with Air Force Amy for free" and "no sex", I'd have taken "no sex"), in the scenes she appears in in this episode she appears haggard and almost out of place, like a former top pro athlete on their last legs desperately trying to come back from retirement one last time. But she's the wily veteran prostitute, and thus sits on the panel evaluating the new blood.

Moving on the the American Idol interviews we get treated to numerous potential bunnies making their case to become independent contractors for the Moonlite Bunny Ranch. First up is Camille, a petite round-faced girl with very large breasts makes her case by asserting she likes everything "natural", is a licensed massage therapist, and a licensed herbalist (although I'm not sure what herbalism has to do with being good at selling sex). After some prodding she admits that her very nice looking (and on display) chest is somewhat enhanced, which seems to make her a little ;unusual among the girls that are featured in this episode. Next up is Ally Ann, a slender blond with some pretty amazing flexibility who says she would deal with rejection by telling herself that the next guy to come in would be a guy who might pick her, a supposition that seems to be fairly reasonable. Jazzy Jones touts her oral sex skills before stripping and doing a "booty dance". In a cutaway interview Jazzy reveals her trepidation at getting undressed in front of Suzette. Charisma also touts her oral sex skills, and then demonstrates them on a banana.

After a series of promising interviews, the process hits a slight snag with a candidate who says she would have to find something attractive about a customer before she would be willing to do anything with them. This prompts Dennis to tell her "this is not about you picking hot guys". Too much selectivity, it appears, is not a trait that makes for a successful bunny, and since she doesn't appear further in the episode, one would conclude that she was told thanks, but no thanks. This segues back to Suzette at her office computer looking through rejected online applications stating that the Bunny Ranch had 8,284 rejected applications for the year as of the date of filming. For anyone who was worried that the Bunny Ranch would not have sufficient staff, there is, it seems, no shortage of women clamoring to become working girls.

The action moves back to the interview stage and we are introduced to Cami Parker, a rail thin bleached blond with improbably large breasts who HBO clearly wants to try to establish as a star for the season. She climbs on stage and announces that she decided to become the "perfect woman", and to this end learned to do three things. She became (in her words) a "really good cook", studied to become a massage therapist, and learned how to be an expert at sucking dick. Of course, she says this all in her affected baby girl lisping voice, which is an immediate turn off for me, so I'd say her plan failed, at least as far as I'm concerned. I'd also note that if I were imagining the perfect woman while all three of Cami's touted qualities might be on the list, they wouldn't be the top three, and there would be a host of other qualities as well, including not having a lisping infantile voice. Though Cami says she is "far from dumb", well, I'm doubtful about that claim, since everything she says and does on the show points towards her being a fairly dim bulb. She jumps at the chance to strip, revealing a pair of very artificial looking breast that don't fit her frame at all. I'm not opposed to augmented breasts, but there is always the danger that they will detract from, rather than enhance, a woman's appearance, and I suspect that this is the case with Cami, whose chest appears immobile and whose skin appears stretched unnaturally tight over her too-large implants. Highlighting this, Cami talks abut how her breasts are "bouncy", but when she jumps up and down they move almost not at all.

Having had enough of interviews, HBO moves to "Booty Camp" in which Ranch veteran Bunny Love, acting as a drill instructor, breaks in the new girls. They run to a mock lineup wearing the impossibly high heels that the women at the Ranch all wear, and while running down a fairly dangerously placed slope in one of the hallways Jazzy Jones loses her balance and wipes out. Jazzy later quips "I never thought it would be this hazardous just to be a ho". Once they've lined up, Bunny does her best Lou Gosset, Jr. impersonation berating the new girls, finally commenting to Jazzy that she can't yell at her because she fell, but pointing out that in a real lineup such a tumble could cost her $30,000. After the mock lineup is a discussion between Dennis, Bunny, and the new girls in which the perennial question of "how much to charge" is raised. As always, the Ranch veterans are somewhat coy about pricing, refusing to give any kind of guidelines or suggestions beyond the vaguest and most general advice. Bunny suggests that a girl should start high and work her way down in price, and that they should always be cognizant of the volume of traffic in the house - on a slow day a small amount of money might be the only income they get. We get a little bit of "new girls teaching new girls", as Jazzy Jones (easily the most interesting of the new girls featured) gives a pole dancing demonstration, starting off by showing how to make cleaning the pole sexy.

In an all too brief segment, Barbie Girl and Jazzy Jones are shown discussing their previous lives. Barbie says she is completely new to the sex industry - never having worked as a stripper, porn actress, escort, or any other sex industry job. In fact, she reveals, her previous job was at Red Lobster. One assumes that she will find the Bunny Ranch considerably more lucrative. Jazzy Jones also reveals a mundane working background as a certified dental assistant. She describes the decision to make a career change as being based on the fact that she likes sex, but given her skills displayed on the stripper pole, one suspects that she isn't as green to the industry as Barbie Girl. Once again, it is made clear that the women working at the Bunny Ranch aren't some strange alien breed but are actually just ordinary women who have decided to take up an unusual career. They not only could be the girl next door, they are the girl next door. Or in some cases, the girl serving you seafood or cleaning your teeth.

Since we haven't had one yet in the new season, HBO serves up a client scene, starting with a lineup in which the customer uses the tired metaphor that the lineup is "like a candy store" (seriously HBO, feed some better lines to these guys: "like a gourmet buffet", "like being at Baskin-Robbins", "like being in front of a lineup of hot willing women", just anything other than the worn-out "candy store" metaphor, please). This lineup marks the one and only appearance in the episode of the ultra-sultry Mika Tan, and her appearance highlights two things: (1) she is really tiny, and (2) she is much sexier than any of the new girls. This being HBO, and since these scenes have to be prearranged (so as to permit them to obtain filming releases), the client picks one of the new girls: Ally Ann. After a brief scene on the parlor couch, they move to her bedroom for negotiations and sex. In a side interview scene Ally talks about how she is becoming able to "get inside" her customer's heads and "see what they are all about". This customer, apparently, is all about contortionist sex, and Ally's previously demonstrated flexibility is put on display, with some of the positions being ones that seem, well, interesting but uncomfortable and probably not worth the effort.

The obligatory sex scene done with, HBO turns to another subject it has always been fascinated with: Dennis' girlfriends. After his breakup with Brooke Taylor, it seems that Dennis decided to trade down and fawn over the vapid Cami Parker. In a voice-over Suzette talks about what it takes to be Dennis' girlfriend, stating that he "likes to mold them into what he wants, and is doing it with Cami now". It seems that what Dennis primarily wants at this point, based upon his interactions with Cami, is an almost anorexic blond with red nails and lipstick. Dennis then starts giving Cami advice about how she will have to be thick-skinned because the other girls will be jealous of her status as his girlfriend, closing with "girls can be catty". Cami protests that she's always nice, and then shows her appreciation for his advice with the grating endearment "Thank you, Daddy". I've said this before, but it bears repeating: it is creepy for a woman to call the man she is sleeping with "Daddy", and coming out of Cami Parker's mouth with her baby girl lisp it is especially creepy.

The show then gives a flashback to the days when Dennis and Brooke were together, showing the vibrant and glowing Brooke Taylor in a montage of scenes from prior scenes while Suzette's voice-over proclaims that she "truly believes Brooke loved Dennis", a fact that even from the distant vantage point of a viewer whose only window into that relationship is the Cathouse episodes should be able to figure out. This leads directly to the highlight of the show, titled "Brooke's Back" as Brooke Taylor, now a brunette heads to the Bunny Ranch in her car. When asked if she misses the old Brooke who was dating Dennis, she responds "I don't miss the Brooke of two years ago any more than I miss being twelve". After watching her forlornly walk down the Bunny Ranch hallway before packing her belongings in the last episode, it is apparent watching her roll up to the Ranch in her cute little Mercedes that Brooke seems to have moved on and adjusted.

As she pulls up to the Ranch, it becomes clear to the viewer that even though she isn't Dennis' girlfriend any more, Brooke is the Queen returning to her kingdom. In fact, Brooke's appearance at this point in the show just highlights exactly how colorless and bland the episode had seemed before. Without Brooke to anchor it, the show is simply rudderless and adrift. Of course there is friction, and it comes from control freak Dennis, who despite not wanting to have her as his girlfriend any more is miffed that she elected to change her hair color and personal makeup style. Gone is the platinum blond hair, the red nails, the red lipstick. Instead, Brooke switched to incredibly sexy brunette hair and complimented that with understated makeup, according to Suzette, for example, either no lipstick or pink. The resulting look is amazingly attractive, but Dennis grumbles that he doesn't like it and maintains that "she did it just to piss me off". Brooke, for her part points out that she wasn't blond because he told her to, but because she cared what he thought, and now she really doesn't. It seems that one person in the relationship has moved on, and it isn't Dennis. (Note to Dennis: If she isn't your girlfriend any more, you don't get a say). Suzette then has a voice-over in which she says that Brooke, working two weeks a month, is making more money than ever, which in the world of a brothel seems like it should close the book on whether the new look is a good one or not.

Suzette then gripes a little bit about animals at the Bunny Ranch, first talking about how because Brooke obtained her dog Bella when she was Dennis' girlfriend they are stuck with Bella at the house. She then says Bella isn't a problem, but opines that she can't imagine a guy having a party with Brooke with Bella yapping in the background. Just as an FYI for Suzette, I'll suggest that when a guy is having sex, especially with a knockout like Brooke, he wouldn't notice a nuclear attack, let alone Bella.

This leads to Cami's pet, a cat coincidentally also named Bella (and if you think Cami's pet having the same name as Brooke's is a coincidence, I have some Pacific beachfront property in Nevada to sell you). Cami leads the cat about on a leash, and the animal looks terrified in every scene it appears in. Comparing the two girls' pets is just a lead in to the clearly staged scene in which Cami comes to talk to Brooke. And when I say "clearly staged" I mean that HBO seems to have pushed Cami to go and "confront" Brooke in the hopes of having some on camera fireworks. This seems very similar to the hideously contrived "confrontation" between Brooke and previous girlfriend Sunset Thomas. And as before, Brooke deftly avoids the trap set for her and is enormously classy, even giving Cami some advice telling her to play up the "new girl" thing, stating that she had lots of "first parties" because that is clearly enticing to a lot of men. (I suppose this means the cat is out of the bag, and most of you guys who think they had "first parties" with Brooke, Cami, or probably any other girl at the Bunny Ranch should now realize that there is a much smaller chance that this is actually true). Cami, perhaps realizing that no one is paying any attention to her while Brooke is on camera, unsuccessfully tries to rectify this by whipping off her top for no apparent reason, after which she comments that before her breast implants she was "about Brooke's size". Unwilling to rise to the bait, Brooke graciously says that Cami's breasts look nice, but that isn't anything she would do to her own body. Brooke finishes off the awkward encounter with a brief comment to the camera that while she isn't going to be friends with Cami, she isn't going to try to cause her any problems either. In short, Cami still seems like a nervous child with an inflated chest, and Brooke seems like a confident, sexy, and fully grown adult.

Having tantalized us with enough Brooke to show just how pallid the new girls are in comparison, HBO decides to shift back to the new girls for a little comic relief as Madam Suzette shows how difficult it is to break them in and make them follow the rules of the Bunny Ranch. She is shown admonishing girls to put their breasts away, put their computers away, and put their robes away, all of which are apparently forbidden in the parlor. To illustrate the newness of this crop, we get a lineup scene with a new customer, who picks Barbie Girl, who then turns and yanks Air Force Amy along for backup. In some camera interviews Amy proudly says that Dennis has told the new girls to bring her in to help negotiate, and that when they do, it usually means that Amy will negotiate, the guy won't have enough money for both girls, but Amy will get the new girl more money than she would have otherwise gotten. At this point, the action shifts to the bedroom and Amy pounces on the client to begin negotiations in her usual hyper-aggressive used car salesman style. This being an HBO shoot, the three end up having a threesome, which serves to contrast the faded veteran Amy with the brand new teenage Barbie Girl. Although neither girl particularly appeals to me, I wouldn't have sex with Air Force Amy with someone else's penis, while Barbie merely gets a "meh" reaction from me. The scene seems intended to be a "passing the torch" scene, and I hope it is, because that might mean that we won't have any more Air Force Amy scenes.

Finally we get to the denouement, with Cami cuddled on Dennis' lap as he announces that they are going to get burgers, fires, and malts. After saying she would put out for anything, Cami snuggles up to Dennis and coos "I love working here" in her little girl lisp. One has to wonder if she will love working there as much when she is no longer the princess around whom the Bunny Ranch revolves when, as is inevitable, Dennis breaks up with her. One suspects that she won't adjust nearly as well as Brooke seems to, and even though it seems clear that not being with Dennis won't bother her, not being the center of attention probably will. To underscore this, the show moves to a shopping scene in which the bunnies try on sexy outfits and try out sex toys - and to make sure she is the center of attention, Cami is the first to whip off her clothes before she wheedles a pair of stripper shoes out of "daddy". Before long, all of the girls are naked and tying out products. Every season seems to ramp up the amount of sex and nudity in the episodes, and this one is no exception, as there is more nudity in this scene alone than there probably was in the first five episodes combined.

The good news with this episode is that Cathouse is back with new material. The bad news is that with the exception of Jazzy Jones, none of the new girls are interesting enough to make you really care. Though she doesn't come into the show until it is more than half over, and is on for too brief a time, it remains clear that Brooke Taylor is, at this point, still the undisputed star of the show. Although it must irk Dennis no end, none of the new girls, including the insipid Cami Parker, have a hope of replacing her in that position. As a general rule of thumb at this point, the more Brooke Taylor there is in an episode, the better it is. Based upon the material presented in Cat Call, I don't see that changing any time soon.

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