In an era of three "Law & Order" and "C.S.I." series apiece, any time a drama series comes along and tries to expand beyond the procedural format it deserves some attention. When it's extremely funny and compelling then it demands said attention.
In this case, it's Showtime's "The Ranch," the pay channel's failed drama pilot turned original movie, which premieres this Monday at 9:00/8:00c. But don't let that pedigree scare you away, this by no means is a summer burn off.
"The Ranch" tracks the lives of a half dozen or so prostitutes at the fictional Diamond Ranch just outside of Reno, Nevada. This isn't "Red Shoe Diaries" however, although because it's Showtime you'll still get your fair share of nudity and adult situations.
Writer Lisa Melamed ("Party of Five") and director Susan Seidelman, who helmed the pilot installment of HBO's "Sex and the City," stack the deck with all the stock characters you'd expect to find in a drama about a brothel: there's the one who wants to get away to find a normal life ("Come to Papa's" Jennifer Aspen), the one who has prostitution in her blood ("Tru Calling's" Jessica Collins), the newbie with a shady past that comes back to haunt her ("The Shield's" Nicki Micheaux), the resident bitch ("It's All Relative's" Paige Moss), the mom who struggles to do the right thing for her daughter (Samantha Ferris), the reluctant dreamer/romantic (Bonnie Root) and of course the jaded "madame" who keeps a roof over their heads (Amy Madigan).
And as no doubt expected there's more than a few easy sex gags, many of which revolve around Ferris' character: when told her daughter is on the phone, she has to "hurry up" and finish up with a client and it's no real surprise that a birthday party attended by her daughter has her running into another client - in front of his wife.
But "The Ranch" is far from a bunch of stock characters playing out easy jokes. Over the course of its 90 minutes, Melamed and company manage to draw us into the lives of these girls in interesting, surprising and dare I say charming ways. Each character happens to hold a secret that unfolds in a way that makes you view them in new eyes and definitely hungry for more.
There's also some genuinely humorous and touching moments, often at the same time: a scene in which Rickie Lee's (Moss) bitchiness reaches a fever pitch quickly shifts gears to a gripping revelation about her character; a proclamation of love by the resident nice guy bartender to one of the girls results in a broken heart, but not from who you'd expect; and an off-handed comment between Kim (Collins) and Velvet (Micheaux) after a threesome results in the best laugh of the night.
Beyond that "The Ranch" also manages to look at an interesting and often unexplored segment of America. After all, where else will you find a group of women living and working together outside of a nunnery? And in terms of television, where else will you find a show dominated by dynamic (mostly) thirtysomething women? There's no excuse folks, make an appointment for "The Ranch."
So yes it's a pilot to a series about prostitutes that won't become a series airing during the holiday weekend. But make a note of it regardless, this one is by no means something to dismiss despite said obstacles.
"The Ranch" premieres Monday, July 5 at 9:00/8:00c on Showtime.