THE GIRLS NEXT DOOR: SEASON ONE
Image A Sound A Extras D+
"Meet the Girls," "New Girls in Town," "Happy Birthday, Kendra," "What Happens in Vegas," "Fight Night," "Operation Playmate," "Just Shoot Me," "Midsummer Night's Dream," "Under the Covers," "Ghostbusted," "Grape Expectations," "I'll Take Manhattan," "My Kind of Town," "Clue-Less," "It's Vegas Baby!"
STACKED: THE COMPLETE SERIES
Image B+ Sound C Extras D
"Pilot," "Beat the Candidate," "A Fan for All Seasons," "Gavin's Pipe Dream," "The Ex-Appeal," "Nobody Says I Love You," "Two Faces of Eve," "Darling Nikki," "Crazy Ray," "iPod," "Heavy Meddle," "Goodwizzle Hunting," "After Party," "Romancing the Stones," "You're Getting Sleepy," "The Third Date," "The Day the Music Died," "Poker," "The Headmaster"
by Ian Pugh I'm pretty sure it was Jon Stewart who described "lad mags" like MAXIM and STUFF as "porn for people too timid to buy porn," and under that category we could probably also file PLAYBOY reality series "The Girls Next Door" and the Pamela Anderson sitcom "Stacked": softcore pap for those too afraid to have God's honest filth appear on their rental history or cable bill. I'm inclined to believe those same people are apt to use the phrase "turn your brain off" while justifying their love of these silicone parades--which in this case means, what, "shut up and masturbate"? PLAYBOY and Anderson are both cultural artifacts and thus demand scrutiny; protest, however, and you'll just be dismissed as a double-plus-bad thought cop bringing intelligence to a discussion where it isn't wanted. You know, the brainiac killjoy who has to say, "Why are you watching this garbage?" The programs themselves shout you down, in fact, before you have a chance to complain: each invokes Shakespeare on a whim ("Girls" in a party and episode named for "A Midsummer Night's Dream", "Stacked" in one of its sarcastic faux-intellectual quotations)--not for any genuine comparison, but as a surrogate for intelligence, introduced for the sole purpose of deriding it as impertinent. You're the idiot, apparently, for harbouring the desire for something substantial out of one of the most widespread and influential media of the last century.
The E! Network's "The Girls Next Door" is a near-literal blur of birthday parties, day trips to Vegas, and sleeping-in as Hugh Hefner's three girlfriends live la dolce vita at the Playboy Mansion until their bodies start rejecting plastic surgery and Hef kicks them to the curb. The show's producers seem aware of this sense of borrowed time--chirping crickets and "say what?" record scratches permeate the soundtrack--while the girls do not, making the affair a particularly cruel example of ticking-clock schadenfreude. "Meet the Girls," as the first episode invites, and feed into their respective delusions: Holly, the "#1 Girlfriend" who struts around like an insanely jealous mother hen and hangs off Hef, her "soul mate," like a five-year-old; Bridget, the amazingly selfish wannabe-Playmate with a Master's degree in communications; and Kendra, the clapping, guffawing moron.
A series of vaguely-connected vignettes follows, somehow constituting a television show: the girls add new members to their already numerous pantheon of pets and attend an AFI tribute for a fellow delusional, George Lucas; we learn the difference between being a Playmate, a centerfold, a bunny, and a girlfriend; and there's a lot of "oops!" nudity. Meanwhile, Hef himself drifts in and out of frame, Dracula-like, to the fawning adoration of everyone around him. Predictably, it all comes without any value, save for a few accidental moments where the "World in Action" end-credits music from the Seven Up film series accompanies various non-crises. Could you imagine these girls under Michael Apted's septennial eye? Considering that, find real tragedy in Holly's infatuation with Jean Harlow, as well as in Bridget's normal-looking sister Anastasia, who makes annual summer retreats to the Mansion. When she is eventually made over into Bridget's clone, the "Twilight Zone" implications are impossible to ignore. "The Girls Next Door" is yet another self-consciously horrible demonstration of our inexplicable love-hate obsession with the culture of celebrity.
Unlike Hef's girls, Pamela Anderson's willing participation in Borat speaks to an awareness of her dumb-blonde image and legion of pervert fans. But upon watching "Stacked", I'm forced to wonder: awareness to what end, exactly? The show's tagline, "She sells books. Like you care," could probably be appropriately twisted around to apply to anything Anderson has ever starred in. In her latest attempt to transform her living person into a poster of herself, Anderson "plays" Skyler Dayton, a party girl who gets a job at Stacked, which--of course!--turns out to be the name of a bookstore. Beyond the embarrassing TV-14 euphemisms for "breasts," "penis," and "vagina," it's all about redemption or something: egghead owner Gavin (Elon Gold) convinces Skyler she is worthy of more than the smooth-talking, tattooed hard-rockers she normally goes for (1.1, "Pilot," in which she eventually dumps a two-timing Brit (Charles Messure)), until he tells her that she isn't, for his own purposes (2.11, "The Day the Music Died," in which she is convinced--with the help of her own inherent lust--to seduce the nearly identical music-shop proprietor next door into turning his amps down; too bad he turns out to be gay). Though both are long past their sell-by date, "Stacked" and Anderson have a lesson to impart: pretty women aren't whores...until they are.
A legend for turning big boobs into a decades-long profession, Anderson recruits "superhotties" Jenny McCarthy and Carmen Electra to guest star; Pam and Jenny play with each others' breasts and Carmen keeps her voice in that default sultry tone and everybody drools. It's a brief respite from Anderson's less attractive co-stars, who are predictably relegated to self-hating comic relief: nutty professor Harold March (Christopher Lloyd--as in, "Whatever happened to Christopher Lloyd?"); Gavin's chubby brother Stuart (Brian Scolaro), who nurses a pathetic crush on Skyler; and also-chubby coffee girl Katrina (Marissa Jaret Winokur), a member of--get this--a knitting group consisting mostly of alcoholic housewives. Following a typical round of humiliation at the hands of beautiful people (2.7, "Goodwizzle Hunting"), Stuart and Kat take solace in a one-night stand. Presumably because beautiful people don't factor into the equation, the subplot is dropped like a hot potato after a brisk two-part episode, and they are returned to the role of sex-hungry clowns.
In its dearth of plot, humour, and humanity, "Stacked" certainly knows that it has no ambitions to be anything more than an excuse for Anderson's plunging neckline. Appropriately, the show reaches an apex of repugnance at the end of its run, in the unaired "Poker" (2.12--but I don't even know her, har har). Gavin's borderline-demonic ex-wife Charlotte ("Huff"'s Paget Brewster) asks Gavin to escort their son Owen (Wyatt Smith) to get a haircut and suit for a prep-school interview; too busy with an online poker tournament, he delegates the job to Skyler, who allows Owen to get a mohawk and a zoot suit. But, you see, Charlotte is at fault here for making the request in the form of a demand, which offends an irresponsible father who rarely has to tend to his kids anyway (he has a daughter, too, though neither child is seen beyond the pilot and this two-part storyline). Further evidence of how much of a bitch Charlotte is: upon her request that Gavin lecture Owen about a "Girls Gone Wild" video in his possession, she fumes, "I don't want him to get the idea that women are fun playthings that exist solely to make men happy." Huge laugh from the canned audience, because if you've come this far, chances are you're ignorant enough to believe that only someone with a bug up her ass would express that concern for an eleven-year-old boy. Oh, but don't worry, Charlotte eventually sees the light in "The Headmaster" (2.13) and sleeps with the titular character to ensure Owen's admission into said prep school. Aim low, ladies, and maybe your bodies can convince a man to give you what you want.
Feel free to rag on the show, but it's very nearly impossible to fault the technical specs of Fox's three-disc set of "The Girls Next Door"'s first season: the video-based 1.33:1 image is beautifully sharp, accepting a broad landscape of colours and allowing night-vision graininess where appropriate. The attendant Dolby 2.0 stereo audio is clear as a bell and comes in identical censored and uncensored tracks. What with the number of breasts on display untouched by blur, I'm not sure whose virgin sensibilities we're saving by bleeping the profanity.
Audio commentary from Holly, Kendra, and Bridget adorns every single freaking episode; they spend the entire time alternately confirming that they still feel however they felt about whatever's on screen or rationalizing that the editing process elided some vital discussion. Since the show itself is already a running commentary from these women, there ain't much of a reason to listen (thus, in a lot of ways, this is the distaff version of "Dane Cook's Tourgasm"). Their uninterrupted stream-of-consciousness does confirm, however, that they're just as deluded and reprehensible as they seem to be on the show proper. The "girls" trainspot everyone they recognize in singsongy voices, they coo at the animated openings, they hum through the theme song--if you can get through fifteen iterations of this, you're made of stronger stuff than I am. A whopping 29 deleted scenes (billed as "sexy" on the box) are spread out across all three discs. Most are useless extensions of a thoroughly useless series, but there's a touching elision wherein a former Mansion staffer pays a visit upon returning from a tour in Iraq; he immediately embraces his parents, who also happen to work there. Not sexy enough for the airwaves, apparently.
Find more of that unrealized opportunity in "Hef's World" (19 mins.), the unaired pilot and the real highlight of the extras: focusing more on the Mansion staff than on the girls, the pilot explores the inner workings of--shock!--a birthday party (Bridget's, this time), daring to suggest that this lifestyle of hedonism is menially crafted by a lot of people who won't get to enjoy it. Genuinely interesting stuff, and an indication that the show might've been worth watching on a network that didn't throw the baby out with the less racy bathwater. It's back to the drudgery, though, with "All About the Girls" (12 mins. total), essentially unfiltered interviews from the premiere episode disguised as getting-to-know-you screen tests. Again, seeing as how we spend the whole series getting to know them, why repeat this? Useless promos can be played before episodes ("Next time on 'The Girls Next Door'..."), while an extensive photo gallery--mostly comprised of publicity shots, screengrabs, and cheesecake--rounds out the package.
"Stacked" also arrives on DVD in a three-disc set courtesy of Fox. (Seeing a pattern here?) The HD-sourced 1:78:1, 16x9-enhanced image is clear but occasionally oversaturated, while Dolby Surround is utilized in a way that simply extends the series' Orwellian oppressiveness: the dialogue is restricted to the centre channel, leaving the laugh-track to dominate the other channels. Extras are relegated to the third platter along with the five untelevised episodes. The lone featurette, "Nipplegate: Getting Dressed with Pamela" (7 mins.), consists largely of clips from the show interspersed with interviews from costume designer Christy Ito and fashion stylist Charlene Roxborough, who bend over backwards to rationalize that the entire wardrobe department is centred around Anderson's bust.
Next up, it's "Show Us Your Bloopers" (5 mins.; in other news, these cutesy titles are really starting to infuriate me), your typical flub-reel that also contains scenes taken verbatim from episodes on the DVD. (I assume this means they were cut for broadcast.) Admittedly, there's refreshing candour when the cast goes true blue: the nauseating innuendo is dropped for the crude vulgarities it represents, and perhaps it reveals that everyone involved knows how terrible "Stacked" is. Any attempt to dress up the supplementary material finally gives up the ghost in "Skyler's Guide to Dating" (10 mins.), an unabashed greatest-hits compilation of scenes culled from seasons one and two. Too long to be a promo, too short to be a clip show, this "Guide" must have been produced exclusively for DVD--which, it goes without saying, is moot to the point of mind-boggling. Both "The Girls Next Door" and "Stacked" dock on the format in thinpaks that slide into a fairly sturdy cardboard slipcase. Originally published: January 15, 2007.