Hookers and booze. As scripted programming barely registers a pulse these days, that’s what we’re left with, as Sundance Channel’s newest reality skein takes aim at the former with a peek at what goes on behind the doors at the world famous Chicken Ranch brothel in Pahrump, Nev. If skin’s your thing, prepare to be a tad unaroused. Sure, there are some fleeting images of sex in this six-part documentary series, but there’s certainly a lot more crying than fornicating.
That’s not to say “Pleasure” isn’t somewhat addictive in a voyeuristic sort of way for those who’ve always wondered about the type of women who would make a living as prostitutes and the customers who would use their services. Unlike HBO’s “Cathouse” series, which covers the same terrain and makes whoring seem like a 24/7 party, these ladies are much more sour on their no-degree-required careers. One resident equates working there to being in prison, having to be on call all hours of the day and ready to put out.
With about 20 women living under the same roof, there are certainly going to be catfights, and plenty abound here. The main instigator is Gabby, a woman who’s developed lupus from implants that have leaked silicone into her body. She’s angry, and worried she’ll never be healthy again, and takes her pent-up hostility out on her housemates. She calls one woman fat and accuses another of stealing clients — and it’s never her fault, natch.
Exec producers and directors Joe and Harry Gantz — the brothers behind “Taxicab Confessions” — smartly ensure that the women deliver personal backstories before getting on their backs, with tales that never fail to amaze. By episode two, the show becomes more engrossing as these women describe how they arrived here — with tales of woe coming as a welcome relief from the constant bickering.
Chyna, for instance, began having sex at age 16 but hasn’t had relations with her husband since 2004. Rose, who specializes in perversion, was on the streets at 16 and says she’s been a “piece of putty in the hands of unscrupulous men.”
And then there’s Kittie, a housewife and mom who helps with the family’s finances by working at the Ranch one week a month, and then goes home to make dinner and watch the kids play soccer. She recalls the day she cried for joy after receiving her first paycheck. (Just wondering, but do they take out for FICA?)
The Gantzes examine the brothel’s reach outside the Ranch as well. The local minister rages against the sins committed inside his community while the town doctor checks the ladies weekly for sexually transmitted diseases. (He’s OK with their profession andsays he’s never diagnosed one prostitute with a disease, unlike the high school kids he sees who are having unprotected sex.)
Like the world’s oldest profession itself, there will never be a shortage of folks who want to see why anyone would participate in what some would argue is a most degrading line of work. What “Pleasure” proves — at times depressingly — is that these women find being poor a far worse alternative.