The Girlfriend Experience: Season 1
The current paradigm of entertainment no longer provides a strict division between movies and television. Directors, actors and even stories migrate between venues with greater ease than ever before. At one time a film director such as Alfred Hitchcock was strongly chastised by the film community when the dead to endeavor to produce a television series. Television was the little brother of film and just like a grade school kid trying to hang out with his high school age sibling, the social circle between movies and TV are mutually exclusive. Now, there is a greater freedom for creative minds to choose from a greater selection of platforms to present their stories to the public. Steven Soderbergh is a filmmaker who has gained a well-earned reputation for refusing to be constrained by the accepted boundaries of his craft. One of Mr. Soderbergh’s most recent projects, ‘The Girlfriend Experience’, was very young woman who worked as a high-end call for specialized in a specific niche in her profession. Rather than traditional prostitution transaction, she provided an emotional experience emulating an actual relationship. The movie received a lot of attention not only because of the subject matter but because the leading lady of the film was a young adult film star who had gained some notoriety on the talk show circuit discussing her experience as a sex worker. Obviously, this is not the type of theme that could be translated over to traditional broadcast television or even one of the constantly expanding basic cable networks. Subject matter such as this that is so deeply interwoven with sex and nudity would have to fall within the purview of premium cable. Within this upper echelon of television the Starz network has investing a considerable part of their programming slate to cutting-edge programs with eclectic themes ranging from pirates to gladiators. Now they’ve added the story of a young woman who funds her education by providing sexual and emotional support to men willing to pay. Mr. Soderbergh has backed away from direct participation as director or writer but remained involved is one of the executive producers. Consistent with the concept of migrating from film to television, the main protagonist is portrayed by Riley Keough, an upcoming film actress who has had significant roles in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ and ‘The Runaways’. She happens to be rock ‘n roll royalty as the granddaughter of Elvis Presley.
Christine Reade (Riley Keough) is an ambitious young woman working as an intern for major law firm. As is often the case for starting out in your chosen profession, Christine is facing a number of struggles in her life. The two most important resources of both in short supply: time and money. Besides her internship Christine is also going to law school and that is mounting off faster than her ability to address it. A close friend of Christine’s, Avery Suhr (Kate Lyn Sheil), encourages her to help alleviate her financial problems are very unorthodox solution, become a high-priced escort. Christine finds this solution not only financially viable but she becomes enthralled with some of the accoutrements that accompany being an escort. Clientele consist mostly of all the white men who have positions of suitable power and wealth. During their rise to their current status taking care of business left little time for a personal life leaving them with an emotional void that Christine is able to fill, for the right price. From the point of view of these men Christine is just another service, similar to a call for transportation or tailor to supply an appropriate suit. By specializing in providing the girlfriend experience the men are able to have a degree of emotional satisfaction that goes beyond sexual desire and does not present a danger of entangling any other aspect of the lives. From Christine’s point of view there is a substantial historical justification for such a vocation that places it on a level far above what is commonly referred to as prostitution. She’s not just receiving money for sexual services; she is emulating the emotional need for clients have for girlfriend.
One of the major reasons this series works as well as it does is that the co-creator of the series, Amy Seimetz, as an impressive list of credits and all possible capacities of being an independent filmmaker. She’s been prominent in one of my favorite schools and in the films, mumblecore which is also the case for Ms. Sheil. Films made according to the tenants of this discipline tend to encourage cross training of its participants as writers, directors, producers and actors. This has created a community of exceptionally talented people who are capable of crafting examples of cinema on a minimal budget. Their focus is creating an ensemble that can best help story at hand and this is exactly what this theme requires in order to retain the quality it demonstrates and avoid spiraling into becoming tawdry and salacious. In many ways the theme of these upper echelon sex workers is portrayed better in this series than in the film of the same name. Of course one reason for this is that this considerably longer time in which to develop the characters provide subtleties situations. The first season consisted of 13 half-hour episodes that created a pacing and flow story that would be exceptionally difficult to maintain in a movie.
Ms. Keough is able to bring greater degree of sensitivity to our character than Sasha Grey was able to generate in the film. Of course, that is only to be expected since Keough has been steadily working in various movies for number of years while Ms. Gray was just making a transition from the type of filmmaking that requires significantly less nuances to the performances. This works out exceptionally well as she brings the audience along with Christine as she delves into the personally uncharted waters of providing services significantly different from helping to prepare legal briefs. The result of this is a formal approachable character, one that is readily relatable to the audience. On this level the undeniable fact that Christine is a sex worker is overshadowed by the far more universal conundrum of having left the relative safety of college moving on to balancing postgraduate studies the unavoidable necessities of food, shelter, transportation and the other costly responsibilities that comes with being an adult in the real world. There’s also an aspect of the side job that has potential for being beneficial to her as a lawyer. Christine is being paid to pretend to care about a person, no matter what aspect of the law Christine undertakes to overcome times when she would have to sublimate a personal opinions and feelings in order to best serve her client. This also adds to the universal appeal of the situation. In a rate, we are all selling part of ourselves in order to make ends meet. Christine’s employment just takes this facet to a greater extreme. The men that hire Christine are paying to maintain illusion that they are still young and able to be emotionally and physically attractive to a beautiful and intelligent young woman. The vibrancy of their youth was spent on achieving their professional goals; accumulating the relevant power of the desired. Christine’s service, the girlfriend experience, allows them to return back in time to when they would be able to sustain such a relationship on their own desirability.