I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
You’re not hallucinating positive vibes if you’ve noticed reality TV has recently embraced themes like self-care and kindness to others. Ask anyone who works in unscripted TV and they’ll tell you that studios and networks have slowed attempts to replicate the trashy appeal of the Kardashians and are instead focusing on programming they think serves as a salve to our divided nation. Before 2017, the “network needs” circulated by Hollywood agencies weren’t looking for people like Jonathan Van Ness and Marie Kondo to teach emotional intelligence to pent-up and non-demonstrative Americans. They just wanted to find the next guilty pleasure. But one show slipped through the cracks on account of a premise that, at least on its surface, seemed to scratch that sleazy itch. That show was Showtime’s Gigolos.
For those who never saw the sexually progressive reality show, which ran from 2011–2016, Gigolos followed a diverse group of Las Vegas male escorts — ranging from a meathead rapper to a spiritual yogi to a middle-aged gigolo to a feminist libertarian. Sure, it dipped into silliness, like the episode where they adopted a Capuchin monkey named Mikey. But it was the type of show that would offset Mikey the monkey with, say, a 58-year-old hospice worker tearfully recapping the date she treated herself to after decades of devotion to her patients. Its DNA was part goofy reality TV and part sex-positive softcore porn, meaning each episode could be uproariously funny while also oddly touching. And no moment better encapsulated that duality than a scene where one of the gigolos was unable to stop eating as he confronted his ex-wife for the first time in over a decade.
Brace Land was Gigolos’ standout character; a blue-collar factory worker who turned to escorting in his late 30s, an age when most of his gigolo colleagues look to retire. During the show’s run, the 40-something Brace served as both comic relief and wise sage to the young studs. If they needed advice on dating, Botox, or keeping up the ability to keep it up, Brace was there for them. But from his cynical views on long-term relationships, it was clear that the divorced Brace was suffering from major trauma — trauma that would be dredged to the surface on the show’s second season episode “An Ex Marks the Spot.”
In this episode, we get the mythic origin story of Brace Land when his longtime friend and ex-brother-in-law Jay comes into town. Many years ago, Brace was living a happy domestic life with Leslie, his wife of seven years. That idealistic existence imploded when Leslie cheated on him, causing Brace to renounce love and become a gigolo. But Jay isn’t the only one visiting Vegas; both Leslie and her identical twin sister, who happens to also be Jay’s ex-wife, are in town. Brace pretends he isn’t affected by this news and that he’s long since forgiven her, but Jay has had enough of the macho posturing that covers up Brace’s unexamined feelings of hurt and anger. Or, as he puts it to his bro, “I just want to be able to go to the beach with you and not have conversations about ten years ago.” Brace agrees to meet with Leslie, but he can’t stop fidgeting with his signature drink of Pineapple & Patron. But this shoddy poker face is nothing compared to what happens next, the scene I cannot stop thinking about.
When Brace and Jay meet Leslie at a sports bar, the usually confident gigolo can barely look at his ex-wife. Brace starts off as combative, which is not unusual for a forced reality-TV confrontation. But as Jay tries to explain his buddy’s feelings of betrayal, Brace starts to cram grilled chicken into his mouth. There’s nothing casual or aloofly cool about it; Brace simply doesn’t know what to do with his hands or his mouth or the myriad thoughts going through his head. Like the protagonist of a romantic comedy who gets dumped in the first ten minutes, Brace begins to literally eat his feelings as he faces down the person he blames for his current state of emotional vacancy. And it’s not even his food!
In just over four minutes, Brace goes through nearly every human emotion … and almost every food group. Chicken skewers, grapes, pita bread, crackers, cheese. He shoves all of these in his mouth, whether giving a sarcastic retort about his stoicism or lamenting that the “real” him would be at home with a good wife. At one point Leslie, stifling a laugh, even pleads with him to stop gorging. But Brace is so ravaged with a combination of anger, sadness, and guilt that he’s physically unable to stop. When Leslie tells him she’s scared he’s going to die a lonely old man, Brace denies it with eyes full of tears and a mouth full of pineapple.
The former couple make a therapeutic breakthrough when Leslie pushes back on Brace’s claim that he can never trust women again. With chicken protruding from his inner cheek, Brace notices a ring on Leslie’s finger, a ring he bought her many years ago. It’s the only ring he’s ever bought a woman and he did it because at one point in his life, he says he did care. Leslie — who it should be said, definitely did not need the closure that Brace is seeking — allows her ex-husband to finally reach and identify the root of his anger. Brace not only forgives Leslie for her infidelity, but he forgives himself for the mask he’s put on since the breakup.
Five years later, Gigolos’ season six finale centered on Brace announcing to his colleagues that he was hanging up his dick — professionally, at least — for good. After a touching sendoff, the episode’s end credits were interrupted with a juicy preview for the next season: Brace’s boss at Cowboys 4 Angels offered him a job managing the Las Vegas branch of the male escort agency. But that next season and, more importantly — for those like myself who were emotionally invested in Brace’s maturation — that next stage in his life never came.
So instead, I’ve turned to Brace’s social media for those updates, and they’re not good. Rather than take that job, he now makes money selling fake HGH and other dubious pills. More disconcertingly, Brace’s online presence since 2016 — like so many middle-aged Americans who can’t understand why their kids don’t call them anymore — consists mostly of MAGA memes and videos about the caravan and George Soros. Every day when I see his messages of misdirected hate, I can’t help but think of this scene. Did Brace learn nothing when his decade of macho blustering was reduced to anxiously picking at a charcuterie board to stop himself from crying? Was the key tenet of the Brace Philosophy (“be good to people”) that he explained in the intro to every episode just false dogma? Unlike other shows in reality TV’s current “kinder and nicer” era, I won’t have an answer to the status of his emotional intelligence wrapped up in a clean 30 minutes. But like the tzatziki sauce on the corner of Brace’s mouth, this scene will stick with me for a long time.