Zalman King's Red Shoe Diaries debut in 1992 on Showtime, distributed by Playboy. It was a series that would go on to last five seasons and spin off into a few more made for TV movies but there wasn't much in the way of continuity here. What linked the episodes was the presence of Jake Winters (David Duchovny), a man whose story was told in the 1992 Red Shoe Diaries: The Movie. Basically he lost his wife and since then he's taken out newspaper ads encouraging women to write and tell him of their sexual exploits. Each episode is based on one of the letters were presume he received through this endeavor as women would see his ad and send in diary entries to him.
There are thirteen episodes in the first season, some of which feature some interesting cast members, spread across the two discs in the set as follows:
Safe Sex The first episode follows a gorgeous woman (Joan Severance) who starts to crave something to take her away from the pressures of her everyday life and her job. She meets a man (Seven Bauer) who coerces her into a world of sex without commitment or consequences, in fact, he doesn't even want them to know one another's name. While this sounds great at first, soon she has to question is this is what she really wants, particularly once she realizes he may not have been playing by the same rules that he's been imposing on her.
Double Dare A secretary (Sarah Luck Perason) becomes intrigued when she spies a handsome office worker toiling away in the office next to hers out of her window. Things get more interesting for her when he starts sending her faxes. Remember fax machines? This is a sexy story about a fax machine. Arnold Vosloo appears in this one though.
You Have the Right to Remain Silent A female police officer named Mona McCabe (Denise Crosby) writes Jake about a man at her health club (Patrick Banta) who she is really attracted to but who pays her absolutely no mind. One day she decides to follow him when he leaves and when the opportunity arises, she arrests him and whisks him off to a loft where, now in control, she makes she he pays attention to her.
Talk to Me Baby A beautiful French woman is involved with a man named Bud (Richard Tyson) who seems to reciprocate her feelings for him. He finds himself in hot water when she walks in on him in the bathroom of a club where he's paying extra special attention to the beautiful winner of a wet t-shirt contest. Bud realizes his mistake and does everything that he can to win her back.
Just Like That Trudie (Nina Siemaszko) is a secretary at a successful law firm but otherwise lives a pretty pedestrian life. This all changes when she suddenly finds two men intrigued in her at the same time: a courier named Kyle (Matt LeBlanc) and a businessman named Phillip (Tchéky Karyo). Rather than make a rash decision, Trudie decides to take them both out for a test drive and it goes well for her, until she winds up running into both of them at the same time. It's weird seeing one of the guys from Friends in this show.
Another Woman's Lipstick Pretty Zoe (Maryam d'Abo) knows that her husband is messing around on her, she's certain of it. In order to find out more about the mysterious woman that her man has been getting with on the side, Zoe disguises herself as a man and tries to seduce her which only leads to her coming to terms with her feelings for the man she committed to in the first place.
Auto Erotica A beautiful woman named Claudia (Caitlin Dulany) is out for a drive when she almost runs over a man (Kenny Johnson). This isn't so odd at first until her phone rings and it's him. He wants to challenge her to a race and maybe a little more, especially once they find themselves away from it all out in the desert.
Jake's Story Jakes (David Duchovny) is still missing his late wife terribly. He meets a sexy photographer (Sheryl Lee) and they get into one another pretty quickly but when he learns that she's hiding a husband from him, his past come back to haunt him and he has to reconsider.
Accidents Happen A sexy Italian made named Daria (Marina Giulia Cavalli) comes across a tape of her boss (Scott Plank) making loud and passionate love to a woman (Ally Sheedy). This leads to her becoming obsessed with their sex life and causes her to fantasize about things, until an opportunity presents itself and she winds up getting what she wants after all).
The Bounty Hunter A female bounty hunter named Evan (Sue Kiel) is hired find a man named Oliver Dunbar (Nicholas Love) who has a habit of seducing woman and then conning them out of their money. To do this she disguises herself as a hitchhiker but she soon finds that once she's made his acquaintance she can't fight her attraction to him.
Weekend Pass Chandler (Ely Pouget) and her lady friends decide to cut loose and enjoy a night on the town together but things get dangerous when a big fight breaks out. After that she meets a loner named Eddie (Anthony Addabbo) and as Christmas is fast approaching, they enjoy the holiday together.
Double or Nothing A female pool hustler named Alicia (Paula Barbieri) gets together with a male hustler (Francesco Quinn) and as they bond over their shared love of the sport and the competition, they begin a torrid love affair. They soon learn, however, that what works in competition doesn't always work in the bedroom.
How I Met My Husband The final story follows a woman named Alex who has fantasies of becoming a dominatrix. To turn her fantasy into reality, she takes some instructional courses from a female professional and falls head over heels in love with a man she meets named Giuseppe. The rules of BDSM don't always allow for romance, but they find a way to make an exception.
Like a lot of anthology series shows, this one is pretty it or miss in terms of plotting and storytelling. Most of the storylines here are pretty thin and exist really more as a reason to offer up the softcore sex scenes that the series was known for. When approached in this regard, however, typically they work. Keeping in mind that this is absolutely a product of the early nineties and that as such it will display all the fashion and stylistic sensibilities inherent in that time period, there are opportunities to sort of snicker at how dated much of this is, but the series deserves some credit for breaking new ground in terms of what could be shown on cable TV. The series is also interesting in that it presents almost everything from a female perspective and while it sometimes falls flat it does at least try to give us a woman's point of view on various sexual issues. One of the recurring themes that pops up in more episodes than not is that of dominance and control, or more specifically, the giving over of control to a sexual partner. The series definitely plays up on that aspect a lot, and so things do get a bit repetitive there but the inclusion of some harmless kink and sexual quirks spices things up from time to time.
The performances are typically a bit lacking, often both male and female stars are wooden and when they're not, they're just as likely to be hampered by some pretty hokey dialogue. This makes some of the storylines pretty tough to take seriously, as one forced and corny conversation will lead into one highly stylized and beautifully lit sex scene after another and then that will basically repeat until whatever conclusion King and company attempt to bring it to. The elements of suspense that are worked into the plots are mediocre at best but in terms of visuals, dated as all of this might be, there are nice production values here. The music is swanky enough to compliment the action and the pacing of any given episode is decent enough.
In the end, this stuff isn't deep but it does what it does well enough that there's entertainment value to be had. How much replay value you'll get out of this will obviously boil down to your own personal preference for softcore and melodrama, but if you dig one or the other both of those traits are offered up here in seriously healthy doses and on top of that you get the novelty of seeing an odd roster of talent (most either on their way up or down in their career) bumping and grinding in front of the camera.
Red Shoe Diaries: Season One arrives on DVD framed at 1.33.1 fullframe which would seem to be the correct aspect ratio for the production. The image is fairly soft, though in all fairness much of this has to do with the way in which the series was lit and shot as you'll notice this is a constant throughout the entire series. Color reproduction is okay but never as bold as you want it to be. Skin tones look decent enough though black levels appear more of a dark grey than a true black. Detail isn't particularly revelatory but, all in all, the movie looks okay. Not great, but perfectly watchable.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix on the DVD gets the job done but don't expect to be blown away by anything here. Dialogue is a little bit flat and the score, which periodically sounds way out of place, never punches through the way it maybe could have. At the same time there are no issues with any audible hiss or distortion. This isn't in any way an exciting sound mix but neither is it all that problematic.
The main is an twelve minute introduction to the movie by director Zalman King who offers up a bit of background information about the movie and his intent as a filmmaker. It's a bit more clip heavy than it needs to be but it's moderately interesting. Aside from that, we get a three minute The Stars Of The Red Shoe Diaries featurette (this is really just clips showing some of the celebrities that appeared in the series, there's no context here) menus and chapter selection.
Red Shoe Diaries: Season One isn't all that intelligent or all that through provoking though it occasionally gets points for at least trying to be. The series is slick and stylish, it's well put together, very nicely shot and quite often impressive in how it is edited. The acting isn't always amazing and the storytelling ranges from simple to downright goofy but if you've got an affinity for early nineties ‘sexy stuff' you'll probably appreciate this. The DVD release of the complete first season is of okay quality. The transfers are soft but that's just part of the deal with a series like that. Not an essential release if you're not already a fan, but an amusing enough rental if you want to check it out.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.