The Girlfriend Experience – Season One – was easily my favourite TV series of 2016. Inspired by Steven Soderbergh’s film of the same name from 2009, it followed a young law intern’s exposure to and gradual embracing of a particular form of high-end prostitution. The story was sordid – most of the men, in particular, were venal, at times abhorrent – but it was a classy production all the way. Riley Keough gave literally a star-making performance – she is now well on the way path to becoming a movie star of the highest order. The direction and writing, from series creators Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan, was cold, clinical, precise and terrifying, using Kubrickian camera set-ups and David Lynchian sound effects to make every shot a portent of doom. Hotel room corridors, open-plan workplaces and building foyers all simultaneously evoked absolute generic banality and, somehow, a circle of hell. It was simply outstanding, and also, thrillingly, it was an absolute drama, or perhaps thriller, being told over thirteen episodes in the half-hour format, traditionally used by comedy. While there were occasionally incredibly sly, dry, dark moments of mischief, The Girlfriend Experience was by no stretch a comedy.
Now we have Season Two, I’ve seen the first four, and so far, so great. Seimetz and Kerrigan are back at the helm, so the series has aesthetic continuity, and its aesthetic is a huge part of what makes it so fantastic. But there are big changes. Keough is no longer in it, nor is her character Christine. Now we have two storylines, told alternately, one set in Washington, written and directed by Kerrigan, and one in New Mexico, written and directed by Seimetz. Kerrigan’s story feels more directly connected to last season, in that one of his two lead female characters is doing extremely similar work to Christine’s in tonally and aesthetically similar settings – cold, empty hotels, workspaces and apartments – while Seimetz’s feels a little different, telling the story of an ex-prostitute re-entering the life while in a witness protection program in New Mexico. Just that setting alone sets it apart from the cold urbanity of the other stories.
Seimetz and Kerrigan combined their work on Season One, so it’s fascinating to see their different writing and in particular directing styles snap into clearer focus here. Kerrigan’s style turns out to most fully embrace the Kubrickian, Lynchian aesthetic I’ve referred to, bordering on self parody at times – his locations are so austere as to almost be absurd or deliberately surreal, featuring apartments with barely any furniture and offices and restaurants with barely any patrons (and certainly no background music). Kerrigan wastes no money on extras! By contrast, Seimetz’s story is a little warmer, her shooting a little more conventional, and her main character, Bria, more human. Kerrigan’s characters deliver their dialogue impassively on the whole, but Seimetz’s seem to be allowed emotions.
It’s all fascinating, brave stuff that pushes boundaries and buttons. It’s set in 2018, during the mid-term elections, so there’s some scary US political content as well. It’s a bummer not to have Keough around – there’s no doubt about that – but so far, I’m fully on board for Season Two. I totally recommend it to adults. There is very, very high sexual content and very adult themes. After all, at the end of the day, it’s about prostitution, in all its forms.
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