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Starz’s ‘The Girlfriend Experience’ Is A Not-So Guilty Pleasure

April 10, 2016
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My sister likes to joke that I’m in my late twenties, and begrudgingly, I suppose that I am. As I’ve continued to age and mature, I’ve also had to unlearn so much. There has been a constant stripping away of girlhood fairy tales that continue to cling to me, despite my experiences and the circumstances that I’ve found myself in. I’ve also learned to shed bad habits, and refrain from buying into those old rules about what it means to be a woman in this society. A lot of this unlearning and revising stems from my own sexuality and sexuality experiences. Things I’ve been told to be ashamed of, or shy away from discussing.

Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film “The Girlfriend Experience” follows Chelsea, a high end escort who is unapologetic about her profession and her desires. It’s non-liner and disjointed, and though Chelsea (played by former adult film star Sasha Grey) is compelling in some ways, she remains mostly aloof and untouchable. I found myself unable to connect with her, or with the film in any meaningful way. Therefore, I wasn’t sure what to expert from Starz’s 13-episode television series, which surrounds the life of second year law student, Christine Reade (Riley Keough), who while working hard to excel at her new position in a prestigious law firm, simultaneously gets swept away in the danger and eroticism of being an escort.

Told in short vignettes that depict a  crisp but bleak Chicago, the series follows Christine as she discovers her power, and most importantly what she truly wants out of life.  As she bonds with her law-school friend Avery, Christine soon finds herself sucked into an escorting world known as The Girlfriend Experience.  For her, it boasts unimaginable wealth, power, and obsession.

Like most driven millennials, Christine wants what she wants, when she wants it. She’s a master manipulator, and takes pleasure in commanding things at her will. However, like most people in our generation, she has been sold a lie. The lie that that simply working hard will get you to the top. As many of us know, the world isn’t quite set up like that. After all, everyone is out to protect themselves and their own interest; it’s a lesson that Christine is quick to grasp onto. Extremely intelligent and with an uncanny ability to read people, Christine is soon able to propel herself forward in the escorting world,  while her “real-life” begins to splinter and crack.  That’s the thing about youth; the recklessness that we cling onto our twenties (and maybe even thirties) makes us feel invincible, and boredom adds even more fuel to that fire. The duality between Christine’s two lives are showcased in the series in a fascinating manner. Usually marked by her hairstyles (in a low bun for the law-firm she interns at and draped over her shoulders for her clients), it was enthralling to see Christine try and  balance both of these worlds.  Yet through it all, you’re never quite certain what her true motivations are. Is it money, sex, or both that drives her?

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What I found most compelling about the series was its treatment of sex work. Growing up, I was always taught that sex work was a certain way, perhaps it was something you might be forced into, or maybe it was a last resort where you’re forced to deal with people taking advantage of you. However, Christine’s experience isn’t like that all. As an attractive,  intelligent, and fairly well-off white woman she certainly has advantages. She knows exactly who she is and what she can handle, which is why she revels in the mastery of her work. She’s mostly cold and calculated, nearly unfeeling (except during a few particular scenes with a client’s wife, and with her parents) unless moved to anger; but, she’s not necessarily unlikable. Her cunning abilities are actually admirable. She also clearly enjoys what she does, and though she makes mistakes initially, she’s quick thinking and uses her knowledge to solve her issues. The one lesson she learns is that if you’re going to go down, be sure to sink the entire boat. You might not relate to Christine, or even like her, but you damn sure will respect her.

There were some predicable moments in the series; characters whose erratic behaviors come back to haunt Christine, and other story lines that made you question Christine’s sanity and motivation. Overall however, “The Girlfriend Experience” was full of enthralling elements that kept me glued to my chair. Christine says the things I sometimes wished I had the balls to say. For example, she tells her sister about dating, “I just don’t enjoy spending time with people, I find it to be a waste of time, and it makes me anxious.” No matter how harsh that may sound, I for one despise having my time wasted. Time is a commodity that should be valued above all other things.

“The Girlfriend Experience” was a guilty pleasure to come life, thought not completely without flaws. It was as fun to watch as the numerous smutty novels on my Kindle are to read. The tag line of the series is, “It’s personal”, but in reality there is no intimacy. However, that doesn’t necessarily make it any less of a good time.

All 13-episodes of “The Girlfriend Experience” will be avaible to screen on Starz On Demand this evening at 8PM ET.

Images: The Girlfriend Experience/ Starz