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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Girlfriend Experience Is Your New Guilty Pleasure

The plot and story of Starz new show The Girlfriend Experience, loosely based off Steven Soderbergh's 2009 film of the same name, seems cliche. A young 20-something law student struggles to pay her bills so she turns into a high-end escort to pay the bills. However, Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan tell this story in such an interesting and slick way, that you won't be able to stop yourself from binge watching all 13 episodes, all of which are now available.

The show is cold and distant, like its lead Christine Reade (played spectacularly by Riley Keough- the daughter of Lisa Marie Presely and the granddaughter to The King himself) which in turn makes its voyeuristic tendencies hauntingly beautiful.

Christine is a second year law student at the fictional prestigious Chicago-Burnham Law School studying patent law. Early on she earns an unpaid internship at the prestigious Kirkland & Ellis law firm working for David Tellis (played by Boardwalk Empire & House of Cards alum Paul Sparks)  and Erin Roberts (Mary Lynn Rajskub, 24). However, struggling to pay her bills, Christine gets lured into the world of high-end escorting from her best friend Avery (Kate Lyn Sheil). Realizing that she not only has a knack for this line of work, but that she thoroughly enjoys it, Christine struggles, as she puts it, to burn the candle at three ends.

However, what makes The Girlfriend Experience so successful is not its plot, but its substance and style. The show is ultimately a character study of Christine and the desire of her pleasures. The show is extremely graphic in its nudity, especially of its lead, but its filmed in such a way as to subdue the expectations of The Male Gaze. The muted, grey and blue tones along with the transnational nature of Christine's exchanges make all of the graphic nature of the scenes much more chilling. Christine has a way of charming these men, but at the end of the day, this is just a business deal.

Christine herself is a very cold and calculating character, which it seems like its a turn-off to many people's viewing experience. I, on the other hand, found that coldness to be fascinating. Like the show itself, it's a great way to subvert the expectations you might expect from a show like this, a show more often than not made by men for men.

The show explores Christine and what defines her and what makes her tick as she goes on lots of different dates with a litany of customers. As the show progresses, so does Christine and her confidence. She starts to strip away her past and herself and the show weaves through taboos and mores.

Unfortunately, the show is not perfect. Often times it tries to be a political thriller without ever following through on it. Christine discovers that David Tellis is conspiring with the lawyer from the other side that doesn't resolve itself satisfactorily from a narrative perspective (although it does from the character's perspective and with David's arc) and there's a brief moment where Christine is left a lot of money in a will from one of her clients that seems ripe for tension and drama, yet falls in its face. Yet Seimetz and Kerrigan aren't particularly interested in plot (maybe it stems from the fact that Steven Soderbergh himself hasn't been interested in plot since Ocean's Eleven) and any flaws the show may have are forgiven as you get sucked into the world along with Christine.


* Personally, it took a while for me to get into Paul Sparks' character. It's not that I think he's a bad actor, quite the contrary, it's just that I am so used to seeing him playing Mickey Doyle, a sleezeball, annoying character from Boardwalk Empire that it is difficult for me to see him in any other light.

* Although the series is 13 episodes long, really, the show is 11 episodes long with a 2 episode epilogue. This seems to be a growing trend in TV nowadays that I wish would stop. In an era where networks aren't defined and tied down by many rules and structures, I wish they would learn that it's OK to have as little or as many episodes as necessary for what the story dictates.



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