Since its rebranding, Esquire is hardly the highest-profile network around, but it’s making a pretty strong bid to be one of the more obnoxious. Pushing a jet-setting lifestyle, the channel and movie producer Joel Silver have turned to Jean “Johnny” Pigozzi, an investor in high-tech firms — born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth — who has parlayed that into friendships with famous people. Their casual conversations provide the foundation for “My Friends Call Me Johnny,” but other than eliciting boorishness from the likes of director Brett Ratner and American Apparel’s ousted CEO Dov Charney, seldom has a half-hour felt this long.
Pigozzi describes his outlook on life as follows: “Never go to the office before 12. Business can be fun. And women like to have sex.” Setting the third aside, the first two would fall squarely into the “Nice work if you can get it” column.
Unfortunately, nothing about the premiere explains why Pigozzi is considered such a hale fellow, and the conversations, seemingly designed to catch the rich and famous in unguarded moments, simply involve prodding them to say jerkier things than they would in a more traditional interview setting. So Ratner brags about the women he dates — essentially characterizing them as bimbos, without using the word — while Charney (whose behavior cost him control of the company) mostly dances around Pigozzi’s more impertinent questions.
A second episode, featuring Michael Douglas and chef Mario Batali, is slightly better, if only because the actor (perched on a yacht in Monte Carlo) shares stories about his reckless younger days. That said, it’s still the equivalent — with apologies to Batali — of empty calories.
If there’s a genuine point to any of this, it remains elusive, despite the promise of other famous friends — including Calvin Klein and Martha Stewart — in future installments. Basically, the show is caught in the chasm that separates finding one’s friend riotously funny and exposing him to the world, expecting everyone else, who lacks that history, to share those sentiments.
Esquire still seems to be in something of an experimental period, understandably, since adopting the name nearly a year ago, but watching this sort of flabby, irritatingly star-struck exercise merely reinforces the suspicion that the fabulous-lifestyle-for-men niche, transplanted to TV, might be a flawed construct.
Either way, if “My Friends Call Me Johnny” is in any way indicative of the channel’s direction, don’t call us; we’ll call you.