TV Review: THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, Season One
In 2009, director Steven Soderbergh made an interesting casting choice by placing adult film star Sasha Grey in the lead role of his film THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE. The movie played the role of exhibitionist as we watched Grey portray a high end call girl who experiences challenges balancing her professional and personal life. The movie isn’t about sex and it’s clear from the lack of any, but rather watching a woman build herself as a brand and become whomever her client needs her to be. I’ve always loved the movie, but get that it’s not for everyone. There’s not any dramatic turns or moment of self realization one would expect from a movie about escorts. Grey plays her calm and collected, a chill girl who isn’t bothered by anyone’s particular tastes. I admired her and yearn for that self confidence.
Now STARZ has produced a series not based on the film, but merely “suggested” by it. The show does not resemble the film in any way, but fans will be intrigued in taking it to an episodic format that introduces us to Christine Reade (Riley Keough), a law student who is interning at a prestigious Chicago law firm. To make ends meet, she utilizes her confidence in the bedroom and plays the girlfriend role for wealthy men who pay her some really good money to hang out. One thing that really separates the show from the movie is there’s plenty of sex and nudity here, but never feels like some late night adult programming. There’s quality filmmaking here and Keough goes for the less is more route with a performance that demands attention during awards season.
It’s fascinating to watch her survive the male dominated firm as well as some difficult clients who sometimes want more from her. As she continues to build a client base, the stakes get higher as some develop feelings and a yearn for something deeper while others enter stalker territory. This is where the show gets really intense as midway through the season it completely shifts gear and there’s some truly scary sequences as it’s questionable if someone might be following her or possibly hiding in the shadows.
I feel like I’ve already said too much about what goes on in the show, but co-creators Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan provide so much story and substance within the thirteen 30 minute episodes. THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE works both as a one episode a week show and as something to spend all of your Saturday binge watching under the covers. STARZ is aware of what’s in their hands and not only aired the show on Sunday nights, but allowed subscribers to watch the entire series starting the night episode one aired on demand or on their app. I personally ended up watching the whole thing in about a week and a half. I attempted to spread it out as it didn’t want it to end, but every episode begs for discussion upon viewing.
To my delight, there’s both DVD and Blu-ray releases of the series and I highly recommend you spend the extra few bucks on the blu. While both offer the same special features, by surprise the Blu-ray features a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track that gives an even more intimate experience whenever Christine finds herself in a crowded restaurant, having dinner with a client. The audio is subtle, but proves that a top notch surround sound mix doesn’t only belong in Michael Bay movies.
While the show comes highly recommended, the special features are lacking. Adding up to less than 10 minutes, the three featurettes don’t provide much insight into the series. “An Inside Look” and “What is the Girlfriend Experience” has interviews with the cast and crew about making the show and what defines Christine’s profession versus what one might assume it means. The more interesting feature is “The Look of the Girlfriend Experience” as Seimetz discusses how she and her male counterpart approach filmmaking and shooting the show’s more physical moments. Christine’s clients are largely solo males, but it adds a layer of character to see that the show wasn’t created for horny teenagers who don’t have access to porn. Her experiences are sexual, but each are defining moments that evolve Christine as emotionally detached and sometimes a numb human being.
THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE is not a show about the dangers of sleeping with strangers for money, but rather a character study in what it takes to make yourself so vulnerable in the company of others.