Our TV critic has a new Jew crush
BY Josh Howie
Paramount+ | ★★★★✩
I’ve got a new Jew-crush. Gone from my bedroom wall are the posters of Wonder Woman and Spartacus, to be replaced by The Punisher and now American Gigolo. Jon Bernthal could be any one of us, just with a full head of thick hair, a chisel jaw, and a body that’d have Michelangelo’s David asking for gym advice. And which Jew couldn’t relate to his combination of intense broodiness and vulnerability, abilities he utilises to great effect in this TV remake of the 1980 Paul Schrader movie of the same name.
The original had Richard Gere preening around 1970s LA, catering to the needs of the unhappy rich and powerful before getting subsumed into a murder mystery. Now the core stays the same, updated to this century, but Bernthal has a lot more to work with in constructing his Julian Kaye.
What may seem on instinct an unnecessary remake of a dated footnote of cinema, explaining its near decade in development purgatory, it turns out that being given the time to breathe across eight episodes is an opportunity to get beyond the superficiality of the source material. Yes, you still get the nice suits and fast cars and disco tunes, and there are lots of nods to the original, but this version delves much further into the history, psyche, and limited choices of someone forced to sell not just their body for money, but also their soul. If anything, this is the story about whether or not it’s possible you can get it back.
There’s also a convoluted plot of betrayal, framing, and bodies piling up, and only halfway through the series it’s still difficult to see who the real baddies are. Through various flashbacks we see Julian’s path to prostitution, through the eyes of his neighbour, mother, and eventually madame. We see his 15 years lost in prison for a murder it turns out he didn’t commit. And in present-day LA, we see him struggling to adjust to his freedom, which isn’t just the freedom from jail.
This is where Bernthal truly shines. He needs that body and face made of granite, because otherwise he might explode in a cacophony of conflicting emotions. The supporting cast are no slouches either. Gretchen Mol does what she can with a somewhat tiresome character, the supposed true love of Julian, a pilled-up rich wife and panicked mother, while Rosie O’Donnell has a lot more to play with, relishing the role of grizzled detective with obvious glee.
Overall, this is a further strong offering from new streaming service Paramount+ —which is just what we need, another subscription — and whilst there are splashings of sex and nudity, for a show ostensibly about external desire, much more time is dedicated to the internal. Showrunner David Hollander of Ray Donovan fame was fired during filming though, so the delivery of a satisfying climax, difficult at the best of times, may turn out to elude this series. But — as I’ve heard from a few women in my time — it was nice whilst it lasted.
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