Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Review - Cathouse: She's Got Game (Episode 5)

Short review: A disjointed episode that covers a pile of random topics.

To play the sex game
Some Bunnies get breast implants
Others use e-mail

Full review: Every television show seems condemned to have episodes in which all of the elements of a good show are there, but somehow, the sum of all the parts adds up to a fairly forgettable experience. For Cathouse, the fifth episode titled She's Got Game appears to be that episode. Everything seems to be in place to deliver a solid episode, but there is just no unifying thread that ties this particular episode together. To a certain extent, She's Got Game seems to have been the result of HBO finding a bunch of extra footage that wouldn't fit into other episodes, and throwing it together to fill out a half an hour. Ostensibly the episode is about "game", that combination of sex appeal, personality, and negotiating skills that Bunnies use to persuade men to choose them and then spend lots of money. But as pretty much everything the Bunnies do at the Bunny Ranch is directed to this end, this isn't really a separate topic so much as it is all topics, which results in an unfocused and sloppy episode. The episode also suffers from having what one could term "off-brand" Bunnies front and center - ladies are featured in this episode who primarily appear in the background in most other episodes. And what this makes clear is that there is more to being an interesting reality television character than simply getting in front of the camera. Whether one likes Isabella Soprano, Danielle, or Air Force Amy, or not, they make for good television. On the other hand, Deanna, Felicia, and Jaime Sweet simply do not. I'm sure the latter three are all very likable women and probably good at their actual jobs, but they just aren't good at television. I'll also note that this is the second consecutive episode that has a criminal lack of appearances by Karla.

The episode opens up promisingly, showing Isabella Soprano returning to the Bunny Ranch after an absence (although the exact length of the absence is not specified). This leads to Suzette pointing out that women come and go at the Bunny Ranch on a regular basis. In a brief interview montage, Daisy makes this point more explicitly "I come and go all the time, this is not a lock down house". Felicia says that she is herself at home, and a sexy and beautiful fantasy woman at the Bunny Ranch. Isabella likens being at the Bunny Ranch to being like a princess - since when she is there she gets dressed up, gets her hair done, takes care of her make-up and so on. In effect, for the working girls, it seems that every day at the Bunny Ranch is "date night", because every night they are there they are pretty much hoping for a date. Or three. Amy Andersinn caps off the discussion by trotting out the somewhat overused "sorority house" metaphor - to which I can only say that all the sorority houses I was even passingly familiar with banned men in any of the non-public areas of the house, which probably wouldn't work very well for the Bunnies.

I'll digress for a bit here and expand upon Daisy's comment before climbing on a soap box for a bit. While the Moonlite Bunny Ranch is, at this point, the most famous legal brothel in Nevada, it is not the only one (it isn't even the only one owned by Dennis Hof). Apparently, at many other brothels, when women come to work at them, they are required to spend their entire working shift ranging from days to weeks living at the brothel and never leaving the premises, with some fairly weak rationales extended justifying this practice. I'll note that this level of control exerted over the working conditions of the women seems quite inconsistent with the claim that they are "independent contractors" rather than employees. Put simply, a business simply cannot maintain that their workforce is made up of independent contractors while simultaneously imposing stringent work conditions upon them. As Daisy points out, the Moonlite Bunny Ranch is not a "lockdown house", and apparently has not been one for many years. Given that the Moonlite Bunny Ranch is, at this point, presumably the most successful legal brothel in Nevada (and likely, the most desirable to work at), it seems difficult to understand how the owners of the various other bordellos are able to continue to impose lock down conditions until one realizes that they have a government enforced oligopoly that keeps out competition. Each county in Nevada that licenses brothels only permits a very limited number, effectively giving the owners who hold licenses freedom from any real competition. In short, when the government shields you from competition, you can get away with treating people poorly via your business practices and it simply won't hurt you financially. In a less regulated market, Dennis' "no lockdown" model would have likely been adopted by a dozen startup houses as a means to entice the best money making women to come work for them, and the older houses would have been forced to adapt or die. In the regulated market, lockdown house brothel owners can get away with acting like dicks without any real fear of it damaging their bottom line.

To show the girls dressing like princesses, the show moves to a montage of Bunnies trying on various outfits, and since this is Cathouse and on late night HBO we have to have some nudity early in the show, the scene shows them in the dressing room with dozens of outfits on racks, but has the Bunnies mostly only half-dressed for much of the scene. Dennis Hof comments on the Bunnies' proclivity for clothes, pointing out that many girls will go through six or seven outfit changes a day, trying to hit upon something that will attract a man's attention - when one is standing in a line with a dozen other girls trying to catch the eye of the single customer who walked through the door, it is a struggle to stand out. While she is changing into a bunch of cute outfits, Isabella talks about one reason she likes her time at the Bunny Ranch - she can play the role of the glamorous woman and fulfill people's fantasies, which makes her feel good. As has been hinted at before, the Bunny Ranch does not so much sell sex as sell fantasy, and Isabella's statement serves to confirm this explicitly.

This episode could also be called "the episode we recycled some patrons" and the first example is the couple who appeared in episode three Girlfriends in a lesbian encounter with Sunset Thomas who show up in the background of a scene at the Bunny Ranch bar while Sunset preens for Dennis in a very small blue dress. This is part of a montage of scenes showing a variety of Bunnies in a myriad of outfits, with some commentary from Danielle in which she says some of the working girls don't dress up at all, just wearing a t-shirt and socks and that works for them because they have cultivated the girl next door look. Unsurprisingly, the camera focuses on Isabella Soprano at this point, whose more relaxed and natural look makes Danielle's amazon glamour look forced and artificial. Danielle then says that for her, bikinis are her preference for attire, and I'll editorialize and say that Danielle probably thinks they make her look better than they actually do. As with most other things relating the Danielle, I find her bikinis to be not particularly attractive, but that is probably mostly because she is the one wearing them. One secret about men that most of the women at the Bunny Ranch don't seem to know (or if they do, they ignore it) is that we mostly don't care what they are wearing. Ladies: you could be wearing a burlap sack dress and it probably wouldn't have any effect one way or the other whether we would pick you out of the lineup.

The clothes montage ends with Air Force Amy wearing her favorite kind of outfit: covered in shiny baubles, loaded with piled on fake hair, and slathered with thick layers of makeup. This is the lead to the next segment, titled "Master of the Game", which Amy is supposed to be a prime example of. Dennis explains that "game" can be boiled down to confidence, and Amy certainly has boatloads of that. As Dennis says, Amy knows the psychology of the prostitution business better than anyone. Madam Suzette points out that no one has ever made as much money as she has, and this dovetails into a brief sex scene featuring Air Force Amy as she and Danielle do voice overs about what is clearly Amy's favorite topic: what a great party Amy provides. Danielle says that no one can party like Amy - when she has been in a two girl party with Amy the guy will be sweating, Amy will be sweating, and Amy seems to get energy "from the Gods" (or, given how haggard she looks in some episodes, maybe amphetamines, though that's just speculation on my part). Amy herself praises her own skills, and says that she sets high standards. Maybe I am just naive, but it seems to me that one you get the fundamentals of sex down, there is a limit on how good your party can be, and given that most of the Bunnies who work at the Ranch are professionals who do this for a living, they would all be pretty good at it. Which of course leaves me wondering what Amy does that makes her the "best". Everyone seems to agree that she brings in tons of money, which in a brothel seems like it would be the objective standard by which everything is measured, but based upon what one sees on the show, there really isn't any indication as to exactly why that would be so. The scene ends with Amy and her client giggling together as the intercom announces that it is "time to reparty", which is the euphemism the Bunny Ranch uses for "time's up". Amy apparently doesn't want to end the party, leading to an interview segment with Madame Suzette who says they will usually give an extra ten or fifteen minutes before they demand that a girl "hands over the man or gets him to give us more money". The lesson is this: no matter how much fun you may be having, at the Bunny Ranch you are on the clock.

This segues to Madame Suzette on the phone fielding a question that she probably gets about a thousand times a day: "who is the largest natural chested woman at the Bunny Ranch", to which she answers "me". Which leads to a discussion under the header "ABC of Triple D's" of some of the most obvious assets Bunnies use to entice clients: their breasts. First up are the natural chested girls: Danielle is "still natural", as is Vandalia. Sunshine Lane states that natural breasts are better because they shake and move. Deanna, in the most unsurprising revelation in history also reveals that her breasts are natural. Note for Deanna: If you are an A or B cup, most guys will assume you haven't had implants. Deanna then makes another completely unsurprising revelation: lots of girls enhance their assets, and we jump back to Air Force Amy, who says she was an A cup, but loves her larger chest. This, of course, shocks no one, as Amy seems pretty focused on the idea that all guys are drawn to large things like moths to a flame. Jaime Sweet makes one of her very few appearances on the show to declare that she had implants that she is very happy with. This being HBO, we have to get our recommended daily allowance of nudity, so this whole discussion of breasts serves as a set up for a montage of shots of topless and naked Bunnies.

And then the show takes a sharp left turn to focus on Vandalia - a dark-haired, large-assed, and heavily-tattooed Bunny (heavily tattooed for the time in which the show was filmed - several current Bunnies could probably match her for ink coverage) who is given as an example of a woman with confidence. Vandalia asserts that she "can make you feel good", which seems like a pretty basic requirement for taking up this line of work. She says "I'm a chameleon, I can be intimate, but also wild, tied up, blindfolded. It's all about feeling good". We get a brief talking head interview with Dennis in which he says he didn't know if he liked Vandalia with all her ink (he's apparently not a fan of tattoos) but that her personality and the fact that she has "no inhibitions" won him over. Apparently, for Dennis, one of the primary qualifications a woman can have that impresses him is a complete lack of inhibitions. Given that he owns a brothel, this seems unsurprising.

As Vandalia says "you come to a brothel for a reason" we see the return of yet another previously seen customer in the form of the mustachioed man who appeared back in What Men Don't Know (he was the guy who orally pleasured Shelly Duvell while keeping his blue jeans and work boots on), who, given that this segment is about Vandalia, picks her out of the lineup. During negotiations, both Vandalia and her client claim to be Native American, which I suspect is about as valid as my claiming to be French or Welsh. If they discuss price, HBO doesn't show it, but we are let in on what services the client negotiates for - oral both ways and sex. Which seems pretty bland after all the build up about how wild Vandalia is supposed to be. Which leads to a pretty routine sex scene after which Vandalia muses she would have dated this particular client on her own time if she had met him away from the Bunny Ranch, which is the kind of statement that I am sure helps to fuel the fantasies of guys like Mark from the Girlfriends episode.

This being an episode that seems to be constructed out of leftover footage, the show jumps tracks yet again to feature Isabella Soprano and another topic that seems to fascinate HBO - women who come to the Bunny Ranch to have same sex encounters. Isabella says her job involves meeting lots of different people all looking for something different (which falls into the category of yet another completely unsurprising revelation), and that she loves women, especially the many women she has been with who are trying lesbian sex for the first time.

We then get a quick funny scene of Isabella signing her "card" and noting she's running out of space on it (meaning she's gotten lots of customers) and giving a little "woo hoo".

Isabella then continues on the lesbian theme, saying the older she gets the more she loves women, although she didn't start with women until she came to the Bunny Ranch. Recycling a point made in Girlfriends, Dennis says there have always been women coming to the Ranch, but it was hush hush. A couple would come in and arrange for a party with the girl, and then he would head out to the bar. In short, he was not actually her partner, but merely her cover so she could try sex with another woman. Now, he says, they are open about wanting a sapphic sexual encounter. (I have to digress here and say Dennis: get some better glasses. The ones you wear during this interview segment look really dorky). We get a brief segment with Isabella and a female client talking to the camera, although there is no actual sex scene included. The client was apparently there for her first experience with another woman, and says Isabella treated her well.

The story moves on to show how cutting edge Isabella is in her use of technology. And since this is 2005, this means she's using e-mail to set up appointments. She says men can now schedule their trips around the availability of their favorite girl. This seems to be a large shift in the way legal brothels operate. If one looks at the geography of their distribution, one will note that they are mostly located along major highways. A little research reveals that most of them were established to cater to long-haul truckers and other travelers passing through Nevada, making these locations ideal. But that also meant that most business was basically spur of the moment - a client would walk in, select a woman from those available in the lineup, and get to business. But with the advent of e-mail and the ability of the Bunny Ranch to promote which Bunnies would be available on particular dates, the Bunny Ranch could shift to being a destination as opposed to a stopover. And clients could come knowing who they wanted to see ahead of time, and know that she would be there and available for them. Even so, this particular segment seems fairly quaint now, as a lot of hoopla is made over Isabella heavily working her e-mail connections.

But Isabella does lead into the next segment by saying she got an e-mail from a married man, and she doesn't know what to say to him in return, since she's worried his wife might see it. Note for Isabella: Not your problem. If he's dumb enough to send you e-mail that his wife might see if you e-mail him back, he's going to screw things up regardless of what you do. Just send him an e-mail saying you'd be happy to have sex with him for money and don't worry about it. But this little e-mail dilemma leads to Dennis going over another topic that seems to fascinate HBO - married men who come to the Bunny Ranch, noting that "Some girls say that the married men they are with who come in have wives who know they are there. They don't. Unless his wife is actually there with him, she doesn't know. Marriages don't work that way." Although I'm sure that there are probably exceptions to this rule, I am also pretty confident that this is mostly true. Guys who come to the Bunny Ranch without their wives are probably mostly sneaking around.

And this leads us to Danielle talking about her married clients. After repeating Dennis' line that most married men's wives have no idea they are at the Bunny Ranch, she talks about one of her regular clients who is married and who spends a lot of money to have her give him the royal treatment. Apparently he feels under appreciated at home, so he comes in and says he will spend an hour with Danielle. And then he adds more time, and then more time, and eventually ends up spending $10,000 for six or seven hours with her. That's about $1,400-$1,650 an hour for anyone who is interested. Danielle would get half of that, so her pay rate for six or seven hours of sex and pampering is between $700 and $825 an hour. In 2005 dollars. Does anyone really need to wonder why the Bunnies work at the Bunny Ranch? Proving that men are predictable creatures of habit, she says he does the same dance every time.

Dennis comes on to say that Danielle is brilliant, guys will come in looking for a big chested blond (which seems to be Dennis' preferred choice of woman - at least the blond part) and end up with her because of her personality before imitating some of the personality traits of hers that I find most grating - her voice and her constant stream of "don't you want some chocolate?" STOP WITH THE FUCKING CHOCOLATE METAPHOR!! Jesus H. Christ on a cracker but that was tiresome even before Danielle started using it, and now it is just annoying. Someone needs to tell Danielle that this metaphor was worn out before Darryl Dawkins was done with it and just retire it. Better yet, kill it dead and bury it under a slab of concrete so it will never be used again . . .

Oh, wait, back to the show. So Danielle negotiates with a client, and we get one of the handful of concrete references to money as Danielle tells him she charges $2,500 per hour. Once again, despite showing a client interaction, there is no actual sex scene. In a cut away interview Danielle says she tells clients that she's a very sensual lady and therefore they need at least an hour with her, and they usually go for it. Displaying what seems to be the typical attitude towards money, she says that they can afford to spend the money, and even if they can't they spend it anyway. As always in the Bunny Ranch, it comes down to money, which leads us to Danielle at the "hooker booker" window (yes, that's what they call their cashier) asking if she's the top booker for the month (i.e. did she make the most money that month). But she isn't. She's second. As she says, she is frequently the top booker for most of a month and then someone will pass her at the last minute, which seems to suggest to me that she has an odd pattern of doing lousy business at the tail end of a month.

Which is a set up for a segment titled "A Treat from the Middle East" where we see who passed Danielle for this particular month - a never before and never again seen hooker dressed up in a belly dancer's costume named Leila. Dennis says that Leila is often gone for months at a time, but then comes back and jumps right to the top of the earners list. Despite having an entire segment devoted to her, there is no sex scene involving Leila in the episode, continuing the established trend of the episode. One kind of suspects that these segments were relegated to what seems to be the "lefotver footage" episode at least partially because they have client interactions, but no accompanying sex scene. There is some suggestion that her thick accent (which some mistakenly assume is a Persian accent, but Leila is in reality half-Egyptian and half-French), her exotic look, and her somewhat aggressive style account for her success. But after watching the segment in which she clumps about "dancing" I have to wonder why the hell anyone would ever pick her over, well, almost any other working girl at the Bunny Ranch. Life is full of mysteries, and this seems to be one of them.

As if to wipe out the memory of Leila's horse-like clomping about, the show changes to a segment titled "Tools of the Trade" with Sunset, Isabella, Danielle, Daisy, and Felicia (and later, Air Force Amy and Deanna) in which a woman who looks like your grandmother and her red-headed assistant show a variety of large sex toys to the Bunnies. First up is a sex sling, which Felicia hops into to get a demonstration of how it works as she opines that sex machines are a real added bonus to a party. Isabella comments that she should be taking notes (although one would think that these sorts of devices aren't really that new to any but the most inexperienced Bunnies). Next up is a dome-like chair, and because HBO needs some more nudity, Sunset immediately strips down and jumps into it, while in the background Deanna gives her creepy smile (seriously, when Deanna smiles, she looks like she's channeling Spencer Pratt). The final toy demonstrated is the "g-ring", a big double ring with a seat belt that Daisy demonstrates. Though you rarely see on-camera nudity from Daisy, for this segment she goes all in giving a direct view of her vagina before Air Force Amy shows up with a dildo and some lube to work her over. Almost immediately everyone joins in for a massive lesbian orgy with naked bodies everywhere and all the toys getting use, including a set of dildos mounted on power tools. At the end, our grandmotherly saleswoman asks how many of the girls "got off", and in response every Bunny on camera raises her hand. And having given us as much sex and nudity to close the show as they can get away with while remaining in "soft-core porn" territory, the show closes.

It is difficult to assess She's Got Game as a whole, since the episode is so disjointed and to a certain extent incoherent. Though several of the individuals segments are modestly interesting, more than a few cover territory that has already been covered in other episodes - leading one to think that perhaps life at the Bunny Ranch is more routine than one might imagine. After all, if HBO is already rehashing the same topics just five episodes into the series, exactly how much variety there really is to the business conducted by the Bunnies. Either that, or the HBO producers just have limited imaginations concerning what makes for good television. In the end, despite the feeling that it is composed of segments that just didn't fit into other, better episodes, this is a decent enough episode that serves as sort of a "grab-bag" of Bunny Ranch topics and a chance to see some of the more rarely featured Bunnies (and a chance to see, in many cases, why they are not featured more often).

Previous episode reviewed: Getting It Up.

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