Vapid, Incessant Posturing? Vaccuum of Intellectual Potential? To Judge Brett Cullum, V.I.P. stands for Very Into Pamela.
Action never looked so good.
VIP was an Emmy-winning series starring Pamela Anderson Lee (as she was credited in the first season). Unfortunately, the Emmy was for single camera editing. Yep, it's a bad show, one that rings as false as Pam's implants and hair color. But surprisingly, VIP became giddy weekend syndicated fun that knew it offered pure camp with no apologies. The current sitcom Stacked isn't the perfect vehicle for Pamela—this crazy fluffy detective show is. It's definitely no CSI or NYPD Blue; it owes more to cable's most cheesy cop show, Silk Stalkings. But hey, not everything can be gritty serious drama. Maybe VIP: The Complete First Season will bring a smile to your face.
Facts of the Case
Vallery Irons (Pamela Anderson, Barb Wire) works at a hot dog stand in Los Angeles. She's dreamed her whole life of something better, and luckily she gets asked to a movie premiere by a bona fide celebrity. At the event the star is attacked by a would-be assassin, and Vallery takes out the gun man with a few roundhouses from her purse. To save face the male star claims she was his hired protection, and soon Vallery is the most famous celebrity bodyguard in Hollywood. Thing is, she works at a hot dog stand. Luckily for her, a group of security professionals have just lost their boss, who has fled the country for tax evasion. They go to Vallery, and make her an offer she can't refuse. She'll assume a figure head position, attracting top name clients on her false reputation while they do all the work. She'll never be in the line of danger, they claim. But of course, Vallery soon finds herself in the middle of gun battles, airplane fights, and explosions. At least she's not dishing out hot dogs. So now the agency is renamed Vallery Irons Protection, or VIP for short. Each episode is a stand alone affair, designed for maximum syndication possibilities to air in any order.
Right off I should admit to being a longtime fan of Pamela Anderson, as well as a serious collector. I've seen most of her work, read both her fiction novels, and have a burgeoning DVD collection of her releases. She's the Marilyn Monroe of our times—a big breasted, good natured, larger than life persona whose private life makes more headlines than anything she does on screen. The woman knows where her bread is buttered, and never aspires to do much more than jiggle and smile at the right moments. So why do I lover her? I'm a big fan of independent cinema and heavy thinking films, and I don't watch more than two hours of television in any given week. I'm well read, and in college took enough classes in women's studies to qualify for a minor in feminist theory. What's a guy like me doing reviewing a DVD set that takes pride in offering little more than plenty of cleavage and some silly action?
Pam and VIP are irresistible for the same reason—neither takes itself all that seriously. When asked what she would do if one of her sons turned out gay, Anderson once quipped "I'd have no problem with it, and I hope he'd at least consider being a drag queen. Lord knows I have the perfect wardrobe for him if he did." She's a woman who understands her own persona, and VIP exploits her assets to their full capacity. Not only are there plenty of designer clothes to reveal her ample figure, but the show capitalizes on her willingness to laugh good-naturedly at herself. Vallery Irons is not a professional, but somehow she Scooby Doos her way through any situation. Pam learned her lesson from Barb Wire and the countless serious attempts to make her an action star. She's best when she bumbles, and VIP allows her to mess up nonstop. Pam helped produce VIP, and it shows. She knows it's all about over-the-top clothes, maximum skin, and ditzy blonde behavior. But she's still some kind of strange feminist role model. A Barbie doll look-alike, definitely—but a woman who can throw down the shopping bags and kick ass when need be.
The rest of the cast is in on the joke as well. The other professional bodyguards at VIP are hardly serious characters, and get equally ridiculous outfits. Tasha Dexter is a fiery ex-CIA operative played by ex-fashion model Molly Culver (Warrior Angels). Look for her in no-nonsense business attire that always gets ripped or stained somehow. Nikki Franco knows all about explosives thanks to her mob family, and is portrayed by ex-aerobics queen Natalie Raitano (One More Round). She sports butch, sleeveless tanks with guns on display. Shaun Baker (Living Single) gets to be the wisecracking ex-con named Quick Williams. He is master of the leather pant. Leah Lial (Little Nicky) cracks the computers as Kay Simmons. She gets to dress like a cyber geek's wet dream with glasses and low cut blouses. To add even more comedy, Angelle Brooks (Blue Hill Avenue) is Vallery's hapless roommate who tries to invent products she plans to sell on QVC to get rich quickly. She wears anything she wants at any given moment. In truth, the show is an ensemble affair much like Charlie's Angels which it owes a great debt to. Different episodes concentrate on various characters, and Vallery is always surrounded by her employees. The cast gels well, and seem to be having the time of their life playing action stars without ever hoping to be taken seriously. They're all sexy, well costumed, and ludicrously lucky that they never get seriously injured. Throughout Season One I counted one flesh wound out of thousands of rounds shot at our heroes and villains.
And what of the guest stars? There was an unbelievable assortment of celebrities that showed up on VIP. Believe it or not, in this DVD set you can find: Bryan Cranston (the dad from Malcolm in the Middle), Udo Kier (creepy European character actor who starred in Flesh for Frankenstein), Pauly Shore (the comic everyone loves to hate), Marie Osmond (of Donnie and Marie), Ian Ziering (90210), Bill Maher (Mr. Politically Incorrect), Steve Austin (the wrestler), Jay Leno (host of The Tonight Show), Cliff De Young (cult actor featured in The Hunger), Joey Lawrence (annoying child star turned pop singer), Charles Barkley (from the NBA world), Jerry Springer (shock talk show host), Robin Leach (Mr. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous), Alfonso Ribeiro (Silver Spoons), Derek and Keith Brewer (the Old Navy twins), Shannon Tweed (B-movie Queen), Erik Estrada (Mr. C.H.I.P.s), Jillian Barberie (morning news woman and recently a Skating With the Stars competitor), Sheila E. (Prince's female drumming protege), David Naughton (An American Werewolf in London), Gilbert Gottfried (another comic everyone loves to hate), Morgan Fairchild (aging sex symbol), Sherman Hemsley (Mr. George Jefferson), Ice-T (rapper who likes to act), Penn Jillette (magician), and Teller (mute magician). All happily show up as assorted clients, villains, or just themselves, with Pamela Anderson as their bodyguard. Seems everyone is out to kill B-list celebrities, and they all enlist D-cup protection.
Sony logically provides a pretty and small package for the show. A slipcase houses three slim line covers that each pack two DVDs, for the thinnest set possible that includes all twenty-two installments. There's a trivia track for the first episode, and like the show it's hardly serious. Even though you get factoids about the budget and locations, you also get giddy references to salacious details about the cast and the world in general. On the season finale we actually get a cast and crew commentary with the participation of series creator J.F. Lawton, executive producer Morgan Gendel, actress Natalie Raitano, and writer Steve Kriozere. They laugh and recall a lot of the strange happenings on the show. The gang even points out every obvious mistake, and claim they did it all because they realized the audience was usually drunk or hung over. There's no pretense here, and even in the "making of" featurette the creators and producers discuss how the show was meant to be light action fantasy with a lot of humor. Don't be fooled by the promise of cast introductions, because there are only three. It's the three women leads (excluding Miss Anderson) doing goofy green screen introductions about their characters. The worst part of the extras is the absence of the star: Pamela is nowhere to be found.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The transfers are nice enough given the nature of VIP. The widescreen is a great touch, and the show ends up looking better than most television programs, while still worse than the typical movie. Edge enhancement and compression artifacts are present, but most are negligible. Colors are bright and usually natural despite stretches here and there that seemed off. Interestingly enough VIP hit the airwaves when television was still shot traditionally, so there are no herky jerky camera moves. The whole thing seems retro and almost '80s in feel. The stereo mix is a direct port from the show but gets the job done. It's clear, but could use a better range of bass.
VIP was a syndicated show that always had the benefit of airing either extremely late at night or on Saturday or Sunday afternoons. With a hangover or a slight buzz it was much more palatable. Sober and in prime time it doesn't work well, as the creators acknowledge in their commentary. You'd almost have to save this DVD set for when you stumble in from a night of having a few too many, and then pop a disc in to get the authentic experience of how the show was meant to be seen. It's definitely a special occasion series, and not one you're going to want to pull out when you're primed for some heavy thinking.
Some people just don't get spoofs. I've seen rotten comments about D.E.B.S., She Spies, and other attempts at campy "girls with guns" projects. People try to take VIP seriously, and that never works. If you find you're not open to light, spoofy satire, you may want to give this one a pass. You've got to get a sense a humor and not expect anything more serious than hair flips and split second wardrobe changes. This show contains not an ounce of believable action, logical plot, or even polished special effects. Noticed an obvious body double, or poor man's process? Hate to tell you, but the producers meant that on purpose. The only point is to have fun.
Which brings us to the burning question about VIP: The Complete First Season: how smart is it to make a show you know is bad and accomplish that? Do we laud the creators for not making smart satire, but succeeding in producing stupid satire? True camp by definition should never know it's horrible, and these guys and gals are purposefully trying to be second rate. A bona fide camp classic is made by people like Ed Wood who think they are making masterpieces, but what do we do when a production sets out to deliver likable trash? It all depends on your tolerance for this aesthetic. If you actually enjoy Showgirls, chances are you'll appreciate Pam and the crew's efforts here. Someone who watched Silk Stalkings for any length of time will probably feel like they are in familiar territory. This is exploitation television that is merely meant to tease and please. It's not for everybody, but for me it was a nice diversion from all those Bergman films coming to me from NetFlix.
Pamela Anderson is free to go, and be as bad as she wants to be. VIP was never a traditionally good show, but it was good at being bad. In the end, it's the ultimate guilty pleasure.
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• Commentary on Season Finale with Series Creator J.F. Lawton, Executive Producer Morgan Gendel, Actress Natalie Raitano, and Writer Steve Kriozere
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