Based solely on the first two 30 minute episodes of the new Starz series The Girlfriend Experience, one immediately gets the sense that they’re watching the next super-hot television item. The TV landscape has changed drastically over the last 10 years, with an amazing amount of diverse creative talent headed for shows at boundary pushing homes like AMC, FX, Showtime, and HBO, with Cinemax and Starz recently upping their game considerably, not to mention the various contributions from Netflix and Amazon and Hulu. So, it’s no surprise that when you have indie iconoclast Steven Soderbergh on board as executive producer (his 2009 film serves as the basis for this provocative new show) and the incredibly smart and talented team of Amy Seimetz (director of the excellent and vastly underrated Sun Don’t Shine, co-star of mind-bender Upstream Color) and Lodge Kerrigan (writer/director of the incredible film Keane) as show runners, that the end result is going to be compelling and stylish. Seimetz and Kerrigan have written every single episode together, and have alternated with the directing chores, thus preserving a unified vision. The preciseness to their storytelling is crystal clear, and because there aren’t too many cooks in the kitchen, my guess is that the show will have a uniformity akin to works like True Detective: Season One, The Knick, and Fargo: Season One.
The Girlfriend Experience is style informing its content, and vice versa, using its emotionally detached characters as guides through a twisty and morally shaded narrative which is all fueled by a minimalist visual aesthetic, all sleek surfaces and glistening edges. Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road) is the very definition of alluring as Christine Reade, a gorgeous young law student who has just scored a major internship at a big city firm, but who also moonlights as a high-end escort, getting pulled into the scandalous world by her friend. As with any 13 episode series, so much is possible, and I’m betting that anyone who watches this sexy new show will get immediately engrossed by all of the elements at play. The way that Seimetz and Kerrigan consistently upend the audience’s expectations about power and sex and desire is clever and necessary, and because the show is told through the female POV, it acts as a form of liberation for the female viewer, and likely something close to male fantasy for a great number of guys at home. Watching an actress like Keough, who is both incredibly easy on the eyes and yet suggestive of something much deeper than outward great looks, should be quite rewarding, as she’s a relatively new talent, carrying zero baggage from other projects, and has been given a role that has serious dramatic potential. And the inspired choice of Shane Carruth (the enigmatic writer/director/composer of Upstream Color and Primer) as composer adds yet another key artistic ingredient, as the music fits snugly in line with that of Ross Godfrey, who handled scoring on the film that inspires this saucy new program, and that of the sounds from Soderbergh’s own show The Knick, which is scored by his long-time collaborator Cliff Martinez. Intriguing, sexually adventurous, and likely to generate worthy discussion after each episode airs, I can immediately tell this will be my next TV addiction.