If you know me, you know I have a hard time connecting with characters that come off as aloof, cold and detatched. This becomes even harder when said characters’ motivations and circumstances are unfamiliar, or when their stories seem to be far outside the realm of my own experiences. Still, I can appreciate the artistic vision of their creators and enjoy the acting, direction and plot lines for what they are.
Such was the case with The Girlfriend Experience.
A young attorney in training enters the world of high-end call girls and develops an entirely new persona – poised, seductive, confident. Riley Keough is excellent as Christine/Chelsea, the cold, emotionless escort who takes control of the situation as she enters into ‘transactional relationships’ with her rich, older clients, offering them the ‘girlfriend experience’. She eventually quits the law, rises to the top of the escort business, but still appears unsatisfied.
Everything about the characters and their stories – especially Christine/Chelsea’s journey – feels distant. From the color palette to the way every scene is shot, nothing about this show is warm and inviting. The viewer is kept at arm’s length, much like the heroine’s clients, so it’s really hard to relate with her, let alone actually care about her life.
If that was indeed the writer and director’s intention, then I’d have to call it a success, but here’s the thing: it’s been less than a year since I binged on the first season, and I can hardly remember anything about the show, except Riley Keough’s vacant stare, and the titilating sex scenes that are completely stark and emotionless, much like the setting that frames them. The story, what little there was of it, doesn’t stay with you – at least it didn’t for me. But I still have to give the show points for originality (having not seen the movie that inspired the show, it did seem like a novel idea) and for not going for the Pretty Woman-esque love story with the requisite happy ending, not to mention for Riley’s exceptional good looks, which make her truly captivating to watch.
And now that I just finished watching the second season, I can honestly say I’d much rather it remained a self-contained mini series instead of an anthology one.
Season 2 diverges from the structure of the first one, and this time we follow two separate stories, with alternating episodes dedicated to each of them. Unfortunately, neither story holds much interest for me, and the only reason I’m sticking with the show is because I’m too OCD to just quit it halfway through.
We meet Anna, an escort who secretly records one of her (misogynistic, awful) clients and sells the information for some extra cash. The buyer is Erica, a gay businesswoman who forms a relationship with Anna. Anna slowly reveals herself as unbalanced, psychotic even, obsessing over Erica, who also proves to be just as damaged, reeling after a break-up with an even more emotionless ex. The story is just as cold and soulless as the original Season 1 plot, giving you zero reasons to care about what happens to the protagonists.
We also meet ‘Bria’, a former call girl who enters the witness protection program before she testifies against her apparently dangerous lover. She leaves her luxurious life behind to live in a small town, work the line in a factory and, worst of all for her, take care of her husband’s teenage daughter, who despises her. Terrified about testifying against her powderful ex, she goes looking for yet another sugar daddy to solve her problems, and even seduces her police minder, but things don’t go as smoothly as she expected. As events escalate when she faces her ex in trial, she takes matters into her own hands. As with Anna and Erica’s plot line, it’s hard to find sympathy for Bria, especially knowing she was complicit in her former lover’s crimes.
What both this season’s stories have in common with their season one counterpart is that both their conclusions are quite anticlimactic; none of the main characters are likable, they do nothing to earn our sympathy, and when their lives eventually crumble, we’re left just as cold and detaches as they are.
If Season 1 was interesting because of the novel way it approached the subject matter, season 2 was just blah. There was nothing original to the concept of the show; the set design was so exaggeratedly stark, it felt like it was trying way too hard to mirror what was already blatantly obvious about the protagonists; the dual stories told in alternating episodes felt disjointed, and any attempt to draw parallels between the heroines’ lives fell short because of the shift in focus to Erica rather than Anna.
Was this a complete waste of time? No, but it did come close. When you keep watching an entire season out of curiosity, rather than interest, you know you won’t be coming back for the next installment next year.