Judge Ian Visser recently appeared as the centerfold model for "Barely Legal: Judge's Edition."
Our reviews of The Girls Next Door: Season One (published August 9th, 2006), The Girls Next Door: Season Three (published January 28th, 2008), The Girls Next Door: Season Four (published March 23rd, 2009), The Girls Next Door: Season Five (published July 13th, 2009), and The Girls Next Door: Season Six (published July 19th, 2011) are also available.
A surprise hit on television, The Girls Next Door—Season 2 now appears from Fox on a 3-disk DVD set. Is it a cheeky, behind-the-scenes look at America's most notorious abode, or merely another case of manufactured "reality?"
Facts of the Case
Where it was once the most daring publication in the world, Playboy magazine's long-standing refusal to go "hardcore" makes it tame by today's standards. Compared to its earlier rivals such as Penthouse and Hustler, Playboy has morphed into a respectable and nostalgic icon and is now a publicly-traded company. Following a decline in fortunes during the 1990s, a resurgent Playboy has begun a fresh round of commercializing its famous brand to attract younger consumers.
Semi-retired, founder Hugh Hefner currently resides in his Playboy Mansion with three live-in ladies. At 80 years old, Hefner shows little sign of slowing down, and spends his days attending personal appearances and promotions with his bevy of blonde beauties at his side. The lucky ladies include:
Holly: Hef's number one girl, Holly gets to spend most nights with Hef and takes the dominant-female position in the home. She's got a keen eye and maintains a sharp look-out for any competition.
Bridget: Bridget is a happy-go-lucky girl, and a welcome breath of fresh air around the mansion. Considered the "smart one," she's already got one Master's degree and is working on her second.
Kendra: Barely 21, Kendra is a self-proclaimed jock who loves rap music, sports, and a good time. Definitely the wild-child of the batch, Kendra can always be counted on to be the first one drunk and/or naked.
Together this quartet jets around the world, throwing parties and enjoying the high-life. Does this make for good television, or is it just a make-believe creation angling for ratings?
What makes The Girls Next Door such a challenge to review is the difficulty in assessing what is "real" or not. The show is certainly part of the company's branding effort, so it seems likely that many of the hijinks undertaken are designed to cross-promote Playboy's other products. After watching episode after episode involving new jewelry lines, clothing lines, casino co-branding and more, it's tough to see the show as anything but a very slick commercial.
The Girls Next Door maintains a narrow focus, and it's rare we spend significant time with anyone besides the girls. We occasionally meet their family and friends, but we never get to find out what they think of Hef's arrangement. Mansion workers are introduced, but again, they never get to voice any of their own opinions. Hef himself is often relegated to the sidelines, padding around the mansion in his pajamas or sitting by while his girls party it up in various hot-spots. To his credit, Hefner seems incredibly tolerant of the cyclone of dogs, girls, and craziness swirling around him, and he is certainly financially generous with his paramours. But despite the largesse, one can sense an iron will lurking just below the surface. Hef seems to have reached a point where he doesn't care what anyone else thinks of him or his behavior, and since it's his house (and money), he gets to call the shots. Most telling is the 9 o'clock curfew that exists at the mansion; when the girls are in danger of breaking this limit, you can see how nervous they are about upsetting Hefner.
Of course, relationships are always difficult to assess from the outside, and even more so when it involves a complex, four-way arrangement. Little is revealed about the exact nature of how things work between the three girls and Hefner, and nothing sexual is discussed in the course of the show. In the midst of all this debauchery, Hefner maintains a very modest attitude, content with mere pecks on the cheek during the course of the day. This creates an interesting question; is Hefner a traditional, old-fashioned guy who merely takes advantages of the opportunities made available to him, or is he a lecherous old man desperate to maintain his Playboy image for as long as possible?
Those viewers looking for titillation around the mansion will likely be disappointed. There are some boobs flaunted about, but nothing akin to the orgies or casual sex that Hefner and Playboy have become known for. All of the girls seem pretty comfortable with their nudity, especially Kendra who strips down whenever she gets the chance (or whenever she gets a few Mai Tais in her). What skin there is on display isn't sustained or graphic, so unless you are totally uptight you should be comfortable enough.
Fox has done a great job on this DVD. Shot on digital video, the full-frame image is almost entirely free of defects. The uncensored audio track is offered in a 2.0 Dolby Digital format, and is accompanied with English and Spanish subtitles. Each of the 16 episodes includes a commentary track featuring the three girls. These tracks are light and fun, often rambling off-topic in humorous ways. It's pretty clear that the girls are the same off-camera as they are on the show, and they spend much of the time pointing out editing tricks and continuity errors for the viewers. There isn't anything too deep going on here, but we do learn a few insider bits about life in the mansion, especially how tough the staff has it when catering to the whims of the three girls.
In addition, the DVD package includes 48 deleted scenes. These are fully-produced segments which range from a few seconds to several minutes in length. There's nothing included that alters the episodes in any way, but it is nice to have Bridget's strip-tease (hummana-hummana!) in its entirety. These scenes include quite a bit of nudity, which may or may not be what you are looking for. Each disk also includes a few episode promos, although I couldn't locate the blooper reel which is advertised on Disk One.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
What does one put on a resume after spending years as a Hefner plaything? As much as the girls' claim to be career-oriented, none of them appear to have any interest in anything work-related outside of the Playboy empire. Sure, Bridget has a Master's degree and is working on a second one, but she still lives at the whim of an octogenarian lothario who holds the purse strings. Sooner or later Hef discards all his playthings, and I suspect some or all of these women may be in for a shock in the future.
The Playboy lifestyle also feels far less glamorous than one would expect from its long history. Many of the Playboy events and parties are full of B-listers like rapper Too Short and commentator Bill Maher, hardly the cream of the celebrity crop. No longer, it seems, is the Playboy mansion the place to see and be seen. It's also getting increasingly difficult to consider Hefner, at 80 years old, to be the swingin' cat he once was. Hefner has made himself into the embodiment of the Playboy lifestyle to such an extent that it's difficult to see how the brand he created will be sustained without its icon.
I'm amazed that this show manages to get away with its portrayal of the Hefner household to the extent it does; it's hard to believe someone hasn't tightened the reins on the editors and producers yet. The girls are portrayed as slow-witted and clueless, with Kendra bearing the brunt of most of the jokes. At 21 she is far from life-experienced, but a deliberate attempt seems to have been made to make her appear as ridiculous as possible, almost to the point of meanness. This may be a case of content determining form, but it still doesn't do her any favorites. Of course, it's entirely possible the girls really can't do much of anything themselves, given the kind of pampering they have grown accustomed to.
If you can get past the conceit of Hefner and his living arrangements, The Girls Next Door: Season 2 offers a light and frothy experience. There are a lot of laughs and head-shaking moments, and it remains a chance to peek inside one of the most famous homes in the world.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary w/ Kendra, Bridget, and Holly
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