‘American Gigolo’ is Less About Sexy Jon Bernthal, More About Evil Sex Slavery

When Showtime released the first trailer for its new drama american gigolo, my Twitter timeline and group chats went up in flames. Here’s Jon Bernthal, our latest internet crush, smiling through various seductions as sex worker Julian Kaye. He was confidence personified, wearing 1970s-style suits and driving a vintage car along the Southern California coast. It seems that american gigolo would be a period piece about Bernthal’s character being accused of murder in the late 70s and early 80s. The drama would be how this man could reclaim his name and his swagger in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles. And there would be plenty of Jon Bernthal to covet and encourage.

american gigolo is to sort of this show. Jon Bernthal plays a sex worker named Julian Kaye. He is charged with murder and locked up for 15 years, but his arrest comes in 2006. That means he wears 70s-style kicking suits. Once he is exonerated of the crime in 2021, Julian must find out who framed him. However, at the root of the mystery is a series of gruesome flashbacks and heartbreaking scenes that show that Julian – real name Johnny – has been sexually abused his entire life. His mother lent him to a neighbor at the trailer park when he was a child and later sold him as a sex slave. american gigolo is a show about a man who has been constantly victimized by the world.

Ergo, american gigolo is not the vulgar and fun thriller advertised. It is, in fact, a hell of a mess. Do not look american gigolo if you’re looking to ogle Jon Bernthal and feel good. Johnny/Julian’s story is so awful that you’ll feel guilty for having a crush on this guy.

Jon Bernthal in American Gigolo sadly knocks on the door of his mother's trailer
Photo: Showtime

american gigolo is loosely based on the Paul Schrader film of the same name. As in this film, Julian Kaye is a male escort who becomes involved with the wife of a powerful man, then is implicated in the murder of one of his clients. Showtime’s version of events is scrambled and jumps between timelines to ponder how early childhood abuse forced Johnny to become Julian. While the film version of Richard Gere’s character loved being a sex worker and relished its superficial rewards, Jon Bernthal’s version of Julian Kaye is armor put in place to save Johnny Henderson from more pain.

american gigolo isn’t the first title from 2022 to explain how childhood trauma pushed a charming man into the world of sex work. Good luck to you, Leo Grande also reveals that his escort hero (Daryl McCormack) uses aliases to cover up the pain of the past. However, this film never denigrates sex work or sex itself. While this film is about pleasure and the power of sexual liberation, american gigolo associates Julian’s work with literal slavery.

Jon Bernthal in American Gigolo looks hot
Photo: Showtime

show time american gigolo has every right to portray a darker side of sex work, but the show’s commercials might mislead audiences into thinking it’s not that kind of story. It’s a fabulous treat for Jon Bernthal fans, but not in the way they might think. As always, Bernthal is electric, dominating the screen like so few actors of his generation can. He plays Julian Kaye more like a bruise than a fully formed man. He does everything he can at all times to conceal his deep tenderness and even deeper hurt. But if you think this is the show that will make Jon Bernthal the A-list star and sex symbol he deserves to be, it’s not. show time american gigolo will make you feel guilty for coveting Bernthal’s character, because by doing so, you are complicit in the crimes committed against him.

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