V.I.P: The Complete First Season

cast: Pamela Anderson Lee, Molly Culver, Natalie Raitano, Shaun Baker, Leah Lail

creator: J.F. Lawton

972 minutes (n/r) 1998-9
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Sony NTSC DVD Region 1 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Jeff Young

Discovered by TV’s BayWatch (1989 – 2000) in 1992, sometimes B-movie starlet (in Snapdragon and Naked Souls, and also the trash-but-fun Barb Wire) Pamela Anderson is hardly a credible actress, even by the usually feeble standards of TV.

However, in this series created Jeff Lawton – the writer of Under Siege (1992), and Chain Reaction (1996); and also the director of The Hunted (1995), and the delightfully cult-worthy Piranha Women In The Avocado Jungle Of Death, our top-heavy Pam found her true metier. She’s a marvellous comedienne, managing a brilliant portrayal as wannabe heroine, Californian blonde bimbo, and seasoned couch potato, Vallery Irons, who sells hot-dogs in L.A. until she gets a date with a celebrity and, almost inadvertently, saves a Hollywood star from a violent stalker, and then – yikes – gets herself recruited, not unlike Pierce Brosnan’s character in television series Remington Steele (1982-7), to become the public ‘figurehead’ for an ‘elite’ squad of bodyguards. Got all that?

V.I.P. ran for four seasons until 2002. Its wryly-offbeat, pop cultural, pun-u-like episode titles rival those of Charmed. V.I.P. sees Anderson playing the public face of ‘Vallery Irons Protection’ agency, staffed by supposedly ex-CIA operative Tasha Dexter (six-foot tall former glamour model Molly Culver), explosives expert Nikki Franco (Natalie Raitano) whose grandpa is a mafia godfather, failed boxer Quick Williams (Shaun Baker), and computer geek Kay Simmons (Leah Lail). The show delivers tons of campy action scenes (borrowing from The A-Team and Charlie’s Angels, among others) in a format of virtually non-stop spoofing of crime thrillers with urban adventure clichés in tinsel town. Apart from its essential glamour girls with guns appeal, one important factor contributing much to the success of V.I.P. was the notable directors hired for outstanding episodes. These included veterans like Sidney J. Furie and Deran Sarafian, and Chuck Bowman (MacGuyver), Scott Paulin (Beverly Hills, 90210), James A. Contner (Angel), Adam Nimoy (Babylon 5), and Greg Yaitanes (Children Of Dune).

After she joins the security team of a company, hastily renamed ‘VIP’ to capitalise on Vallery’s newfound media fame, Val takes up residence in a swanky penthouse apartment with her appealingly kooky best-friend Maxine (Angelle Brooks), from where she daydreams the ultimately decadent fantasy sequences that occasionally punctuate chaptering of casually plotted episodes or provide amusingly absurdist commentary on the what-if… storylines, or illustrating the main characters’ wish-fulfilments.

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Foreign royalty, mad scientists, centrefolds, a cynical talk-show host, a wedding party, a sporting prodigy, and – of course – highly-strung TV actresses and smugly talentless movie stars are the VIP crew’s typical clientele. The lethal ladies also guard priceless jewellery, tackle international assassins, Russian mafia goons and a gang of drug-dealers, get involved in a prison break, hostage rescues, and even go undercover as female bank-robbers to foil a major heist in Las Vegas.

Endangered by their duplicitous clients just as often as being attacked by the bad guys, the feisty VIP girls are quite necessarily subject to all the usual sitcom farce embarrassments and bikini photo-op iniquities that other female TV-action stars have been forced to contend with, and today’s lowbrow audiences expect, and yet V.I.P. is endearingly barmy enough that regular viewers should require little or no encouragement to overlook most of the show’s risibly hackneyed routines, and frequently silly conventions. This is merely escapist fare. It’s great fun and it gets better as the series develops. Anderson bravely assumes the role of comic relief in her own show, each of the supporting players gets an episode to shine, even if this week’s dangerous mission is largely concerned with digging up a character’s best-forgotten, murky past (like the humiliating encounters with Tasha’s ex-husband, or revelations about the dishonourable end of Quick’s boxing career), and the TV production benefits from an obvious boost in its usual budget towards the end of this first season, permitting and abetting grander stunts, more location shooting, and timely improvements in the overall quality of scripts.

What begins as just a throwaway ‘high concept’ show (Barbie is now ‘action girl’), rapidly crystallises from junk-TV elements into a simplistic, but winning, formula entertainment that results in a rare competency right across the board, spawning few – if any – dud episodes. Well, yes, okay then, V.I.P. is not a patch on Alias, 24, C.S.I., or whatever… but it obviously never tries to match the story-arc ingenuity or technical merits of those prime-time shows, anyway. Vaguely, this is closer to a TV-sanitised equivalent of Andy Sidaris’ movies, with similarly humorous riffs on 007 thrills (car chases, big explosions, dodgy martial arts work, amidst unending shootouts). Certainly, I think, this is more enjoyable than either of the big screen Charlie’s Angels outings!

DVD extras: a trivia text-track for the pilot episode, behind-the-scenes featurette, audio commentary on the season finale, newly minted intros (Molly Culver’s very funny sketch is the best of these!) by the TV show’s co-stars for selected episodes.