Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Girlfriend Experience: Eminently Worth It

If it had to pick the best new 2016 television series on any medium - network TV, cable, or streaming - it would be The Girlfriend Experience on Starz.   And though it's hard to compare The Girlfriend Experience to the science fiction, crime, and historical drama I usually review here, it may well be the best series now on television, period.

What's it about?  Well, the girlfriend experience is offered by call girls who not only provide sex, but companionship, dinner, affection, conversation, attentive listening during the time that is purchased, for a thousand dollars or more an hour.   The purveyor of the experience thus needs to be not only beautiful, but intelligent and empathetic.

In order for a series like this to work, the lead actress has to not only be gorgeous, but convey that intelligence and sensitivity.  That would be Riley Keough, who gives a virtuoso performance as Christine Reade.   She's Elvis Presley's granddaughter, by the way.   I don't how she sounds on record, but she has more acting talent than everyone in her family combined - and I liked Elvis in Jailhouse Rock, and Priscilla was pretty good in Dallas, too.  But their granddaughter is something else again on screen.

The story's excellent, too.   Christine has a day job as a law student and legal intern - which is also why she needs to be so intelligent - and this puts The Girlfriend Experience on a continuum with Secret Diary of a Call Girl on Showtime (about a straight-up prostitute) and every lawyer show ever on television, including The Good Wife, and for that matter in a different way with Girls on HBO and The Devil Wears Prada in the movies, too.

But the subject of The Girlfriend Experience is something all its own, and the narrative does a good job of mining its possibilities and complications. Christine's clients range from obsequious to savvy, from brutal to sweet to even sometimes cool.   One of them realizes he can't afford to continue shelling out the big bucks for this and asks for a discount.   Another drops dead (off camera).   A third craves the jealousy part of any real relationship, and asks Christine to set that up.

The pacing in the 13-episode season, each 30 minutes, took a little getting used to, and wasn't helped by the fact that Cablevision didn't have all the episodes up on Starz On Demand as advertised - maybe I should pay for a more satisfying cable experience (wait, I thought I was already doing that) - but in the end and in retrospect I rather like the way the story is rolled out, especially the unconventional season finale.

There's astute use of media in the story, with smartphones and videos playing crucial roles, thus giving the media scholar a great excuse to watch this.

But you don't need an excuse.  The Girlfriend Experience is brilliant, provocative, appealing television, and a unique addition to the screen.



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