On paper, the idea of a college student taking a job as a prostitute sounds like a last resort at best. But, when presented in the new STARZ drama The Girlfriend Experience (loosely inspired by Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film of the same name) it somehow comes across as decidedly less desperate.
In fact, protagonist Christine Reade (Riley Keough) seems incapable of making anything but logical, thought out choices. She maneuvers through the series detached and observing the world around her. That detachment makes her the perfect candidate for a career as an escort specializing in the girlfriend experience; namely this entails fulfilling the mid-life crisis fantasies of wealthy men uninterested in the mess a real affair might bring.
But, while Christine may be well suited to her new profession, it’s not without obstacles. Obstacles, yes, thrilling, high stakes action, no. The Girlfriend Experience is more interested in presenting a world and, like Christine, sitting back and watching the story unfold. And, while there is plenty of sex and it certainly is steamy, you never forget that each encounter is nothing more than a transaction.
In fact, for a series about the sex industry, The Girlfriend Experience takes great care in rendering everything as clinically as possible. Every building is clean-line modern, the loudest color seen is blush pink and no one speaks above a low whisper. All of these stylistic choices combine to create restrained portrait of a very specific section of sex work.
One of the more interesting aspects of the series is that, due to the subdued nature of its lead character, Christine, it’s hard to tell what exactly motivates her. True, she’s clearly a smart, ambitious young law student and its easy to see she’s excited by the idea of her new job, but her feelings towards the people around her remain shrouded by the distance she keeps them all at. This kind of character is extremely rare in popular culture and it adds freshness to the show.
Final Verdict: This isn’t edge of your seat programming, but it is a fascinating, compelling story nonetheless.
*The Girlfriend Experience airs Sundays at 6/7c on STARZ and the entire first season is now available to stream on STARZ Play.
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