TV Review | American Gigolo (The Premiere Episodes)
“Forget what you know about the movie, Paramount Plus’ American Gigolo blows it out of the water. Jon Bernthal is excellent as the tortured protagonist.” We get down and dirty with Paramount Plus’ American Gigolo.
When I was a teenager, I rented the VHS version of ‘American Gigolo.’ I saw an edited television version on late-night TV but wanted to see the full, unedited movie. And I’m glad I did. Richard Gere was superb as the lead character of Julian with terrific support from Lauren Hutton as his lover Michelle. And with a killer opening title song ‘Call Me’ by Blondie, the film rocked. A neo-noir crime drama, the film was entertaining. But it was very much a product of its time, hitting screens in 1980.
When I heard that Paramount Plus was reimagining the film as a TV drama, I wasn’t all that impressed. It felt to me like yet another attempt to remake a classic movie into a drama that had no place in existence. But with the casting announcement of Jon Bernthal as Julian, my attention went up like a rocket. Is Bernthal a perfect replacement for Richard Gere? No, he’s not. But what he brings to the series is amazing. Forget what you know about the movie, Paramount Plus’ American Gigolo blows it out of the water. And Jon Bernthal is excellent as the tortured protagonist.
American Gigolo follows Julian Kaye (Jon Bernthal) after his wrongful conviction release from 15 years in prison as he navigates his complicated relationships with his former lover Michelle, his troubled mother, and the people who betrayed him. While Julian struggles to reconcile the escort he was in the past and the man he is today, Detective Sunday seeks the truth about the murder that sent Julian to prison all those years ago, unearthing a much larger conspiracy along the way.
As I said before, forget what think you know about the story. Here, it is turned on its head. In the original movie, Julian was cleared of murder at the climax by Michelle sacrificing her reputation and marriage by telling the police she was with Julian when the murder occurred. But here, Julian isn’t so lucky. Here, Julian is framed for murder and spends 15 years behind bars before his innocence is discovered. Thanks to some flashbacks, we discover more about him than we ever did in the movie. And some of it is shocking. The series isn’t for the whole family, as the movie wasn’t either. With inferences and sequences that border on child prostitution, the series sets out to shock us. And succeeds.
STRONG LANGUAGE AND SEXUAL SCENES
Strong language and sexual scenes are commonplace in this series. But it is no stronger than some of the other adult series we can see on streaming services. And the storylines are not for everybody in the slightest. But if you’re a fan of the original movie, you’ll get all the references that the show contains. The series takes the basic premise of the film and expands it into something that we are hooked on from the outset. And they have pulled out the masterstroke. They have kept Blondie’s ‘Call Me’ as the series opening theme. And I admit to punching the air when it starts to play. It fits the series and narrative ever so well.
Jon Bernthal isn’t Richard Gere. But then again, he doesn’t need to be. This rips the main threads from the film and transports them to the modern day. And Bernthal is the perfect choice to play Julian in this new version. I am a huge Bernthal fan and here, he is excellent from the start. He is rugged and powerful but emotional at the same time. We can’t help but fall in love with him as the character. And we can’t help but feel for him as he tries to get his life back together as Julian.
What we learn about the character’s backstory shocks us to the core and makes us understand him better. Bernthal’s acting ability makes us buy into his portrayal. And the series is all the better for it.
Gretchen Mol as Michelle is also excellent here. This version is more of a tortured character than Lauren Hutton’s interpretation. The flashback scenes that both she and Bernthal take place in lends more weight to the relationship the two characters had fifteen years previously. But at the same time, Ms. Mol’s performance is a strong one.
We can see that the character has hidden strength underneath her skin, deep inside. And we await that strength to come out as she is constantly mentally tortured by her husband Richard (Leland Orser). Gretchen Mol is a fine actress and she is in top form in the series.
Wayne Brady as Julian’s best friend Lorenzo brings a welcome feeling to proceedings. We get the feeling that he would do almost anything for his fallen friend and will help him pick up the pieces of his shattered life. But we also get the feeling that he is hiding something. Something that will blow Julian’s world completely apart. And Brady plays to his strengths with his performance. We can’t help but like him and this is thanks to Brady’s performance.
Leland Orser as Michelle’s husband Richard is suitably evil and slimy. His mental cruelty and underhanded comments to his wife make us hate him from the start. And we get the feeling that he has more to do with Julian’s downfall than we know as yet. Orser is superb as Richard. One minute, all nice and comforting, the next a complete scumbag.
He also has underlings to do his dirty work for him, almost like a mafia boss. And we fear for Michelle, her son, and their safety. Orser gives us someone that far from being a token villain, is one that exists in the world today, behind closed doors. An abuser who we would never suspect.
Lizzie Brochere will come into her own during the series. But what we have seen of her so far leads us to believe that she is a determined, scheming golddigger of the worst order. Her character of Isabelle is one of those that we know instantly is going to be no end of trouble. When we first encounter the character, she is a young child who forms an unlikely bond with the young Julian.
When we re-encounter her, he is now the boss of the escort agency Julian formerly worked for before his wrongful conviction. And she manipulates Julian when he needs help the most. Ms. Brochere excels in her role, all sex appeal, and innocence that hides her true nature. And she is one character we must keep a close eye on.
But the revelation of the series is Rosie O’Donnell. In the original film, the character of Detective Sunday was played by Hector Elizondo. Here, the character is turned on its head. Rosie O’Donnell knocks it out of the park with her performance. Although she doesn’t appear all that much, when she does, we sit up and take notice instantly. Her performance dismisses all those years of comic genius. Here, she is tough as nails, uncompromising and unfeeling at times.
Take her speech to a daughter who has just lost her father. The father was a criminal and the real perpetrator of the crime Julian was convicted of. Her simple way of saying ‘Sorry for your loss’ gives us chills. Not only is it unfeeling but it simply isn’t true. She despised the deceased and her delivery of the line reflects that. It is a masterclass from the actress, one that is a standout.
I was wrong to dismiss the series as yet another poor attempt to reimagine a classic movie. It isn’t. It is an enjoyable drama/thriller that has us hooked as soon as it starts. The mystery of exactly who was behind Julian’s downfall is slowly unraveled to us and keeps us guessing. And with great performances that suit the storylines brilliantly, the series becomes something that we have to see what happens next. To discover the truth of it all. And to see if Julian really can climb back up to the top.
I have been afforded the chance to see the first three episodes of the series. And to say I can’t wait to see the rest is an understatement. Some people may simply dismiss the show as a pointless reboot of something 42 years old. I have to disagree. Ily enjoying the series more than I thought I would. And that has surprised me. If you are offended by strong language, nudity, and sexual scenes, stay away. If you’re not, then jump into Julian’s swanky car and allow yourself to be seduced by American Gigolo. You’ll be glad you took the ride.
“American Gigolo” premieres on Paramount Plus in the UK on September 10th and on Showtime in the United States on September 11th with episodes to follow weekly.
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Carl Roberts is the News Editor of The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force frequently!