Everyone has some guilty pleasures, so don’t you dare fib and tell me (or yourself) that you don’t. Twinkies? Vaping? Ridiculous reality shows on TLC? Funky flavored martinis with silly names that are almost too embarrassing to order? Come clean, now. You have something.
For the record, I don’t care for Twinkies, vaping, martinis or any shows on TLC. But I’ll admit to one recent guilty pleasure: Femme Fatales, the 2011-12 Cinemax series, 25 half hour episodes worthy of a lot of guilt and maybe a bit of pleasure, albeit the kind which requires your brain to be turned off for 30 minutes at a time.
Never saw it when it aired. I’m not sure I even heard of it at the time. But I did pick up both complete season sets in a used bookseller’s DVD section recently.
The name’s a bit of a misnomer. You’d like to expect something more retro-noir-ish, and what a terrific series that could’ve been. But, no such luck. Femme Fatales is rooted a bit – though only a bit – in the legacy of the 1980’s-90’s era of ‘erotic thrillers’, those ubiquitous direct-to-video (and I do mean VHS tapes) quickie crime/adultery/serial killer films chock full of extended sex scenes, electro-pop club music soundtracks and wall-to-wall nighttime L.A. exterior shoots (or Toronto, often as not, I suppose), all of which kept a generation of actors and filmmakers fed for 10 years-plus, then faded as quick as Blockbuster Video stores. Or perhaps Femme Fatales actually owes more to the early pre-streaming cable television era when late night on every premium channel was ‘sex-time’, if not in feature films then in original series, like Showtime’s Red Shoe Diaries (1992 – 1997). Flimsy plots? Sure. Unknown actors? For the most part, yes. But the production values weren’t horrible, as good as anything we’re likely to see on the CW or some Netflix/Amazon/elsewhere shows. And in Femme Fatales you get…well, ‘femmes fatales’.
Okay, only ‘sort of’. There are bad girlz aplenty. I’m not suggesting the series includes anything up to the caliber of Linda Fiorentino’s Bridget Gregory in John Dahl’s memorable The Last Seduction, of course. The scripts may deal with romance, crime, adultery, seduction or revenge, all dressed up in a dark, neo-noirish look with a sexy veneer and neatly structured to zero in on centerpiece soft-core sex scenes. Each episode is set up by narrator Tanit Phoenix playing someone called “Lilith”, and the South African actress and pinup model makes cameo appearances as well. Needless to say, the series did not win any Emmy awards.
I think Femme Fatales is on Netflix. I’m sure I’ve spotted some episodes on YouTube, though I couldn’t say if those are snips, blurry full episodes or fraudulent links to who knows where. (Shouldn’t be surprising that the ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’ would often use ‘femme fatale’ as a search term.) But complete season DVD sets are available new or good as new for under ten bucks, which fits in nicely with guilty pleasures, which are all the more pleasurable when they’re inexpensive. Are the shows kind of silly? You betcha. But everyone likes to turn off their brain for an occasional half hour, myself included. After all, that’s precisely what guilty pleasures are supposed to be.