From the set of Tool Time, beaches on Baywatch, and the second American Civil War happening in Barb Wire, Pamela Anderson made herself a celebrity name and sexual icon. When it came time for a new show and her real life was a bit rocky, the answer was to do something wild where she could show off her comedic chops and still be in on the joke. This program would be in the vein of a ‘70s action thriller, but with her as the main star, kicking butt, and the campiness dialed way up while playing almost everything serious so the jokes were funnier. Even the name of the show would tell everyone that the starlet was there to grab attention and knew her own value with V.I.P.
It stands for Vallery Irons Protection, and Anderson’s character, Val, is a former hot dog stand employee who bumbles her way into saving a hunky celebrity. At the same time, a team of highly skilled bodyguards loses their famous employer and needs to find a new avenue to acquire rich clients. For this union to work, people have to think that Irons is also exceptional at protecting clients, but that’s not an easy grift to pull off. Her new crew also assures their untrained boss that she won’t be in harm’s way, but we all know how that will play out. It’s a clever setup, a small twist on Charlie’s Angels that focuses on comedy, action, a little espionage, and a heavy dose of sex appeal.
The team backing Val up is composed of Tasha Dexter (Molly Culver), a former spy (just don’t ask her which agency), Quick Williams (Shaun Baker), the charismatic and suave boxer, Nikki Franco (Natalie Raitano), a demolitionist with mob ties, and Kay Simmons (Leah Lail), the group’s secretary, hacker, and all around nerd. Additionally, the cast features Maxine De La Cruz (Angelle Brooks), Val’s roommate and best friend, before also deciding to bring up the recurring character Johnny Loh (Dustin Nguyen), a stuntman and martial arts expert, to the main roster for seasons three and four. Each of these individuals is given episodes to flesh out their backgrounds and personalities, even if it feels somewhat stereotypical. The actors also have decent chemistry together, creating an interesting ensemble cast over time.
Being that V.I.P. caters to the rich and famous, this show is overflowing with celebrity cameos. Actors, comedians, TV personalities, athletes, and musicians, everyone was getting in on the cold openings or tiny closing gags. Some of my favorites were Jay Leno, Pauly Shore, Ian Ziering, Joey Lawrence, Coolio, Gilbert Gottfried, and Stone Cold Steve Austin, but having people like Ice-T, Eva Mendes, and Cliff De Young as antagonists was great too. Erik Estrada has a few great bits, while Loni Anderson and Lee Majors pop up as Val’s parents, showing that star power was never an issue.
The real fun is noting the random minor appearances that mostly go uncredited, like that time when John Cho appeared as a random delivery guy or Christian Oliver from Saved by the Bell: The New Class played a photographer (and people say there’s no rhyme or reason to what I review). Viewers also love to point out that both Bryan Cranston and Dean Norris were in the pilot episode of V.I.P. a decade before their time together on Breaking Bad, even if they didn’t share any scenes together.
With a proper cast and guest stars, it was just a matter of putting the characters in danger. There are plenty of bullets and explosions to go around, as well as some fun martial arts action, but this was done on a television budget, and supposedly these episodes were produced quickly, which might answer a few questionable segments. Several scenes could have used a few more takes, especially considering some sequences look like they just forgot to get key shots of the main actors and used stand-ins or quick cuts. There are some noticeable goofs as well, like seeing a grip’s hand come from out of frame to assist Val and Jerry Springer so they can flip over a four-wheeler. The excessive use of greenscreen shots and mistreatment of slow motion doesn’t help the cheapness either. Sure, it’s the ‘90s, but some lighter touches might have been needed to make this work.
Speaking of that ‘90s touch, there are a couple of fun licensed songs used and some in-house tunes that get stuck in my head, partially because they are featured so much. I think a couple of the tracks also sound like they were inspired by popular songs of the time, just outside of a copyright claim.
Anderson was a producer on the show and wasn’t the only one who wanted to see some camp in V.I.P. There’s also J.F. Lawton, the man who wrote Pretty Woman and was the writer/director for Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. If we think about those two projects taking place in the same world as V.I.P., everything about the tone and cheese makes way more sense. Most episodes start with a grounded idea and reasons for our heroes to spring into action, have a mid-section location change or twist, and by the third act, escalate to something a little ridiculous, ending with the status quo being restored. Every now and again, however, some scenes get extremely goofy, and there are a few stories that just start with the weirdness, like one episode opening up with a jetpack escape. Just accept that this is meant to be fun.
Some people have said the show was “so dumb, it’s smart,” and there might be something there. We do see some well-written scenes and jokes that land properly, alongside Val making Baywatch meta references, quoting her favorite movies, and using a lot of bad quips. Someone liked it, as the ratings were doing quite well for the majority of the run and it is believed that the show wasn’t as much canceled as it had just run its course. Merchandising certainly wasn’t the problem, as there were action figures, comic books, toy cars, and more, but we’ll have to talk about those video games in length later.
Many will say that the show did well because of the excessive T&A. There’s truth to this, the tension with Anderson’s character is off the charts, but they do spread it around the main cast and a ton of eye-candy extras. There’s an effort in many episodes to get them all in their bathing suits or underwear early on, but as Anderson mentioned, they just started making the street clothes skimpier. It’s distracting for the viewers and the characters, as the crew literally has to cover Val’s breasts at one point so someone will pay attention to her. With such designer outfits and swimwear, V.I.P. was, of course, considered to be very fashion-forward. The suggestiveness does hit some extremes in certain episodes, like how in the dream sequence of the pilot, a butler is attempting to force-feed Val a hot dog, and in the second adventure, all of the women are wrestling in slime. None of that will have anyone thinking anything naughty.
Few people will ever try to prop this up as a great show, but in a world where television is supposed to be escapist entertainment, it accomplished that for 88 episodes. Furthermore, it feels like one of the best programs where Anderson was allowed to spread her wings and show some more personality, so for fans of hers, this was a win. At the end of the day, viewers may not need protection from anything serious, but it’s always fun to go hang out with the hard bodies in Beverly Hills and feel like a V.I.P.