Bernthal’s Julian is released after 15 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, and initially seems indifferent to the question of who might have framed him, despite the urgings of the detective (Rosie O’Donnell, only one of the miscast co-stars) who helped put him away.
“Don’t you want to know what happened?” she asks.
As for the then and now of it, “American Gigolo” employs the familiar device of jumping back and forth in time, including Julian’s entry into the sex-for-money business as a teenager, under the stewardship of a madam (Sandrine Holt) who throws lavish pool parties overlooking the ocean.
There’s a leering aspect to the sexuality in the series that at times confuses “ick” with “edgy,” made worse by the fact that it involves minors. Nor is that helped by the tension of whether Julian will get back into the sex trade, which, as the flashbacks make clear, is the one business he truly knows.
“American Gigolo” does its best to keep peeling back layers on the mystery like the film noir of the past, with the detective at one point telling Julian that he’s “like the ‘Where’s Waldo?’ of f—ing crime scenes” as fresh casualties occur.
The key to “Where’s Waldo?,” of course, is wanting to put in the effort to find him. “American Gigolo” tries to provide some incentive, but after the fast-paced montage as Debbie Harry belts out that title track, the inclination is to say “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
“American Gigolo” premieres September 9 on Showtime’s streaming service and September 11 at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.