Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Drew Carey Show: Season 9, Ep 22. Special guest, Maria Ford! (2004)

Directed by Thomas J Thompson
Starring Drew Carey, Ryan Styles, Deidrich Bader, Maria Ford
Genre: Sitcom

"Eggs and strippers. It's why people hide in the wheel-wells of 747's just to get to this country."

While it certainly has its own singular charms, the Drew Carey Show is, classically, not much of a resource for boner TV fans. It is, after all, a show about a pudgy, bespectacled everyman in an ill-fitting suit trying to get though the day without any major incidents. Guys who brew their own beer in their basements don't usually cavort with scads of beautiful women. That being said, the show was often quite funny. Craig Ferguson as Drew's whacked-out boss was a major highlight. Also, Christa Miller, Drew's best-bud Kate, was easy on the eyes, in a low-key sorta way. That is, until she butchered her mug with plastic surgery. By the way, did you know she was Susan Saint James' niece? True story. Also, she was on the cover of the first issue of fratboy boner rag Maxim. So there's that.

Anyway, the point is, you rarely had the opportunity to ogle on the Drew Carey show. And then, out of nowhere, at the tail end of the show's 9th season, the gang hits a strip club. And who's dancing at said establishment? Why, none other than everybody's favorite go-to B-movie stripper-actress, the glamorous Maria Ford!

Ford made a series of low-budget "erotic thrillers" and horror flicks for Roger Corman back in the 1990's. Sometimes she was a cop (Angel of Destruction, 1994), and sometimes she was part of an ancient fertility cult (Burial of the Rats, 1995), but most of the time (Stripped to Kill II, 1985; Dance of the Damned, 1989; Dance With Death, 1992; Stripteaser, 1995, Hot Ticket, 1996; Showgirl Murders, 1996), she played a stripper. While these racy roles made her a cult star, she reportedly hated doing so much nudity, and by the end of the 90's, her reign as a skin-bearing b-queen abruptly ended. She claims it was by design, although many think it was because of face-altering plastic surgery she underwent in 1998. For whatever reason, Maria drifted off the sleaze-beast radar and when she did pop up in the next few years, it was generally in minor walk-on roles in kidflicks. So who knows how she ended up back on the pole in this episode of Drew Carey, but there she is!

In the episode, Drew and his pals Oswald (Deidrich Bader) and Lewis (Ryan Stiles) decide to check out the new strip club that just opened in town. In the pre-credit scene, you can see our girl Maria kicking and grinding with abandon in a too-short pink micro-miniskirt as Drew and Lewis chomp on eggs and toast. They also cut away to Oswald, who is entertaining another stripper, Raven, with his hopeless attempts at card tricks. Raven is portrayed by Sirena Irwin, a voice actress known primarily as the voice of a fish on Spongebob Squarepants.

After the commercial break, we get back to the action at the club. Crystal (Ford) is still dancing for the fellas, but Drew's feeling guilty, because he didn't tell his girlfriend Kellie (Cynthia Watros) he was going. He decides to get some advice from Crystal.
"Excuse me, I need a woman's opinion. I have a question about relationships."
"Well, if it's about your relationship with your father, I'm probably not the best person to ask."
Later on, Crystal gives Lewis a lapdance, and Drew keeps badgering her about his girlfriend. She suggests he lies and tells her he went bowling. Problem solved. Then she bronskies Lewis, but her hard-as-rock boobs injure his neck, and he has to go the emergency room.

The next day, Lewis visits Drew wearing a collar. He tells him he wants to sue the strip club, and to do that, he'll need Drew's testimony. To do that, Drew has to admit that he lied about bowling to Kellie. She's pretty pissed about it.

So, they all go the arbitration, and Lewis attempts to extort $4 million dollars from the club. He does not get it, but everybody gets free passes to the strip club. So everybody wins.

Well, except for Crystal.

Even when the material failed her - and it often did - Maria Ford was a compelling, captivating presence during her 90's direct-to-video run. Most obviously, she was a stunner, with a flawless face and well-toned figure. She also imbued even the most basic roles with some sense of raw authenticity. Maria Ford acted as hard as she possibly could, all the time, even with the most basic, un-challenging roles. But perhaps her most endearing trait was the almost palpable anguish she so clearly felt when she found herself portraying another woozy stripper, another hapless victim, another shameless seductress. Maria wanted to be an A-list, dramatic actress so badly that it bled all over the screen. It made you want to root for her, to be on her team, somehow. Because we're all Maria Fords in someway or another, and just like her, we often end up settling for a life a lot less glitzy and glamorous than we'd hoped for. It is this last defining characteristic, as ethereal as it is, that resonates the loudest in this episode. Ten years later, and Maria finally gets a big break - and it's as a fuckin' stripper. Life is a killer, man.

That being said, as Drew Carey episodes go, "Assault With a Lovely Weapon" isn't bad. Lotsa cleavage, a few funny jokes, and gratuitous Maria Ford. That's pretty good for 22 minutes of mainstream situation comedy. Fans who haven't seen her since the mid 1990's might be taken aback with Ford's new look - her surgery really did fundamentally change the shape of her face - but underneath, she still exudes the heartbroken screen goddess that so enthralled us way-back-when.

Now, somebody put her in a real fuckin' movie so we can have a happy ending, ok?

- Ken McIntyre

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