Background: Playboy is a term our society labels men that fit a certain lifestyle; a lifestyle where getting married, having kids, and taking a dirt nap after working a career in a boring suit job for 40+ years is considered standard. The term was popularized by the legendary Hugh Hefner (a super powered Hero to me for many years) as he built an extensive publishing empire that included night clubs, television shows, and the magazine itself starting back in the mid 1950's. Showing that monogamy was about as natural to mankind as thrifty democrats, Mr. Hefner embraced his stature at the forefront of the Men's liberation movement well ahead of the rest of the civil rights movement that followed some years later. His handiwork over the decades has been such that whether he was involved in it or simply inspired it, a great many men owe some sort of gratitude to the man who really pushed to start the ball rolling. While recent times have not been so kind to the Playboy Empire (the original clubs closed down over 20 years ago, circulation pales from the magazines' heyday, and the efforts to make softcore porn have been lackluster for the most part), few would deny the work the man has done for all of us to liberate us sexually from the confines of societal norms circa pre-1950. One of the spin off results of this popularity has been the subject of this review, The Girls Next Door: Season Two, which I now take a quick look at in the form of the two disc DVD set that came out last week.
The infamous circular bed! (click pictures for picture laden review of P2)
Series: The Girls Next Door was a show that I had never seen or heard about when it debuted on cable televisions' E! Network a couple of years ago. I heard there was a "reality TV show" about the Playboy mansion, the mythical palace of pleasure I had seen only in other shows like The Man Show in the past, but lacking details I had assumed it was centered on Hugh Hefner himself. Having missed the first season of the show, I picked up a copy of the second season to review, finding out that the title actually referenced Hugh's three main squeeze live in girlfriends in the form of Bridget Marquardt, Holly Madison, and Kendra Wilkinson. Each of the ladies is blonde, surgically enhanced, and fitting as a concubine for the guy. The show details aspects of their lives as well as gives an insider glimpse into Hugh's operation, but the emphasis was clearly on the ladies as they ran into various problems (as is typical in reality TV shows).
Holly has been Hef's girlfriend for 5 years and is totally devoted to the man; living for the praise the man provides her fairly regularly. She has illusions of being his only gal pal, subtlety hinting for a bigger commitment from the guy in about half her appearances in the episodes. Hef goes through a lot of ladies so the five year mark is something of an accomplishment that even the other two don't take lightly. Bridget is the oldest of the group but seems to have a fine head on her shoulders (not just as a hotty; all three could claim that), serving to balance out the excesses of the other two while remaining friendly with them. Kendra is the youngest and least secure of the trio. Acting like a white trash gangster wannabe, she embraces hip hop culture in a laughable style that includes attempts to rap that would make Jamie Kennedy seem as black as Dr Dre. She also is the most headstrong of the bunch and seems to instinctively know that her appeal to Hef is as shallow as her persona on the show (through editing and selective use of clips, you get the feeling that the producers were simply playing up those aspects of her personality in order to generate more drama; she's probably a lovely young lady in real life). Each of them display their personality via the gifts that they give Hef on his 80th birthday; Holly giving him some rare white peacocks (as had been on the Playboy mansion estate for years until the last ones died), Bridget gives Hef a burlesque strip show out of a cake in front of everyone (low on nude but high on naughty; showing tremendous preparation), and Kendra gives him a poster giving her top billing in a noir fashion that she had some graphic artist generate "for $500 bucks!".
A Tribute to Marilyn Monroe!
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The show was interesting in how little nudity was displayed (there was a bit of it but not what you'd think took place in the Playboy mansion) but whatever the cable broadcast version was, there was full female nudity here, albeit with legs closed for the perverts out there. The personalities of the gals was the source of the most tension; hearing them rail about the way things are done at the mansion, how Hef prefers certain things, and the understated competition that existed not only between the trio but every other cutie that Hef comes across who could replace them in a heartbeat. The opening episodes were devoted to preparation for Hef's 80th birthday, moving into some pictorial shoots where the gals wanted to do things a different way, to the rare roadtrip by Hef when he visited Kendra's mom in San Diego (Hef being the age of her grandfather was kind of gross). The second disc involved the trio getting more into the festivities at the mansion (like the yearly Easter egg hunt), slumber parties, baby showers, and Kendra's 21st birthday bash but the highlight was the trip to Europe. The third disc had Halloween antics, anniversary celebrations, exercise video production, and a couple of episodes centering on the all new Playboy club as part of The Palms in Las Vegas (rather than a stand alone club like the ones that had to be closed for financial reasons decades ago). About half the episodes actually gave some insight into the ladies but also Hef, some of it favorable but all too often taking understated shots at the ladies.
In the commentaries, the ladies rarely seemed cognizant of the way the episodes were edited to essentially make them come across as caricatures of themselves; from calculating, to insecure, to chasing the man for the wedding (you can figure out which gal fir which persona easily enough after a few episodes), but there were some cute moments when they seemed to really be pals and not nearly as focused as their screen personas were sculpted to be. As far as the reality part of the show goes, I'd have to say that the series was about as convincing as the rest of them on the air these days; not much but close enough to make for a cute and sustainable series. I don't know if watching the first season or the subsequent seasons will make these seem repetitive but having watched most of them in one sitting did prove to be a challenge even for me due to the way the dynamic kept hitting me over the head. The episodes lasted about 22 minutes each so the 16 episodes included on the three DVDs weren't bad, although at this writing, I'm only about two thirds of the way through all the commentaries.
A long day at a photoshoot!
There were numerous cameo appearances too, from Elvira to Donald Trump to Paris Hilton (where she sang a horribly bad version of the birthday song for Hef) and many others, but the emphasis was always on the ladies as it should be so you might appreciate the skimpy attire (and nudity) if you like the ladies as much as most men do. In terms of what to rate the show, I'm kind of at a loss for words since there wasn't enough sexually explicit material to work for one use and the replay value was severely limited by the manner in which so many of the core dramas shown were the same basic concepts that were looked at slightly differently so I rated it as a Rent It. I'd shell out a couple of bucks to see the first season as a rental and hope the future efforts contain the same nudity that was likely blurred out for broadcast too but keep in mind that this is designed as LCD (lowest common denominator) fluff and the more you think about the situation the ladies have placed themselves, the sadder it is on many levels. Still, the ladies were there of their own free will and served up ample opportunities to show how bubbly they could be; potentially advertising as trophy wives if they ever get fed up with the restrictions of being kept.
The Girls Next Door: Season Two
Here's Looking At You, Hef!
Eighty Is The New Forty
Mutiny On The Booty
San Diego Or Bust
I See London, I See France
When In Rome
The 21 Club
Girls Will Be Ghouls (extended version)
The Age of Aquarium
We Can Work It Out
Playboys After Dark
Picture: The Girls Next Door was presented in the same 1.33:1 ratio full frame color as shot for broadcast on cable TV (on the E! Network). It was handled well enough except when someone with a striped short came on to set the screen ablaze with shimmer and noise. The camera angles favored showing butt cheeks, cleavage, legs, and the other appealing physical attributes of the ladies so I can't fault the show for lacking in that department one bit. There was non-blurred out nudity, concentrating largely on ass and titties but there were some closed leg shots offered up too. The editing could be kind of abrupt but I got the feeling that this was due to some great footage being found in a number of junky shots, forcing the choice to be losing the solid money shot (so to speak) or putting up with the edit to keep such footage.
Sound: The audio was offered with several choices including a 2.0 Dolby Digital English language track using an uncensored version, a censored version, and subtitles to both those tracks as well as a Spanish version. I had no way of checking the foreign language subtitles for accuracy but of the two language tracks, the uncensored was the way to go. The basic cable level of quality was adhered to; with minimal separation on the vocals but some for the soundtrack (I liked the opening song by the way). The dynamic range was such that it sounded about the same on my higher end stereo set up as on my low end DVD/TV with the exception that I could hear more noise on the high end equipment.
Extras: The most interesting extra to me was the huge number of deleted scenes, totaling almost 50 clips of varying lengths. Some of them had more nudity or sexual innuendo, while others showed goofy moments by the cast, but they were almost always as good as the main material; broken down by which episode they came from for those of you appreciating such an idea as much as I liked it. The next best extra for me was the audio commentaries by the three gals on each episode. They didn't always have a lot to say but they were fun and made me want them to come back to the "Don Houston Mansion", albeit a couple of steps down from what they are apparently accustomed to compared to Hef's rented home. There was also a combined version of the first two episodes that added in extra footage and some bloopers with the three discs in thin-pak cases in a cardboard holder. In all then, it was a solid set of extras to me compared to many similar efforts.
Final Thoughts: The Girls Next Door was light, fluffy, and innocuous as could be in terms of adult entertainment. The three ladies all had a different appeal and while edited to present a certain type of "package", it was clear that they all were not consistently focused as the series made them to be (especially if you listen to the commentaries, watch the bloopers, and watch the deleted scenes). I don't know if the show will have long lasting replay value outside of the legions of stalkers Holly, Bridget, and Kendra may have gained while in the public eye but The Girls Next Door, when rationed out a few episodes at a time may even prove to be more fun than checking out as I did in a single (technically two) sittings so give it a look if you like seeing nude or partially clothed bodies of the female variety.
---- You can email me with questions at Houstondon @ hotmail.com if you have any constructive criticism of the review too. :) Also you can follow me on twitter @HoustonDon