Christine Reade (Riley Keough) is a second year student at Chicago-Burnham Law School, and a new intern at a prestigious firm. Working hard to establish herself at the firm, her focus quickly shifts when a classmate introduces her to the world of transactional relationships. Known as GFEs, they are women who provide "The Girlfriend Experience" - emotional and sexual relationships at a very high price. Juggling two very different lives, Christine quickly finds herself drawn into the GFE world, attracted to the rush of control and intimacy.
I never saw Director Steven Soderbergh's 2009 film The Girlfriend Experience from which this Starz series is loosely based, but I have heard that it was a pretty middling effort by the director, which was not helped by the fact that he chose a real-life adult porn star (Sasha Grey) to be his lead actress. This new show doesn't have much involvement from Soderbergh (although he is listed as an Executive Producer), and this time around the lead has gone to a legitimate actress who, while perhaps in no danger of winning an Emmy, certainly holds her own among some established character actors who take on co-starring roles.
Riley Keough stars here as young second-year law student and intern Christine Reade, and if she looks vaguely familiar to viewers, it's because she happens to be the granddaughter of royalty. No, not that kind of royalty – Riley is the daughter of Lisa Marie Presley, which means her grandfather is the King of Rock N' Roll himself. Acting-wise, Riley reminded me of Kristen Stewart, with all the good and bad that comes along with it. In Riley's defense however, her character is supposed to come off as cold and distant, and if that is indeed the goal – she delivers quite well throughout Season One's 13 episodes.
Christine gets interested in the escorting business due to the fact that one of her law student friends (played by Kate Lyn Sheil) is already in the industry. Christine decides to try it out for herself and soon realizes she likes it a lot – not necessarily for the money, but because the likes the power and control that is involved with it. In fact, the issue of Christine being a selfish person...and quite possibly a sociopath...is one of the themes that runs throughout these first-season episodes.
In addition to being a high-priced escort and law student, Christine has also obtained an internship at a prestigious Chicago firm, where she works under an equally self-centered attorney, David Tellis (Paul Sparks, who many viewers will recognize from his frequent series work, including House of Cards and Boardwalk Empire). Although separate from her escorting, Christine does wind up having a fling with David, and it's something both characters will wind up regretting as the season unfolds.
Christine also winds up having issues with a client (James Gilbert) who becomes too obsessed with her to the point where she feels the need to cut him out of her life completely. This is, of course, a huge mistake and he's soon stalking her, including calling her at work and meeting her outside of her workplace. Things are no better inside the office, as Christine has learned that David is involved in some illegal dealings over a medical patent case. She's been able to collect incriminating evidence against David during their time spent together, but must now decide how...or if...she's going to use it against him.
While I found each episode of 'The Girlfriend Experience' to be interesting (even though it's a drama, each episode runs just short of 30 minutes, which helps keep each entry briskly paced), I'm not sure the show ever is able to manage to become engrossing. One of the problems is that a decent human being is hard to find on this series. I've already talked about the self-centeredness of Christine, but everyone around her also seems to have their own agenda. It's hard to root for any of these people, so even when someone gets what they deserve in an episode, you can't help but hope that the person or persons who put them in their place also get what's coming to them. Also, whether it's intentional or not, 'The Girlfriend Experience' never lets us get inside Christine's head, so even when she seems to be emotional with a friend or a client, we can never be sure if it's real or all an act on her part.
Still, there's enough here to suggest taking a look at 'The Girlfriend Experience', even if it's not the type of show one is likely to want to go back and re-visit after a first viewing. Everything is so sterile and unemotional here, I couldn't help but think of the superior British series, 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl', which also examined the life of a high-priced escort, but it a much more entertaining and human way.
Finally, I'm sure there are those out there who are interested in knowing just how much nudity is in this series, given its theme. Rest assured (for you perverts out there, of which yours truly does not seek exemption) our lead actress gets naked in each and every episode. With that in mind, most of it is rather tastefully done, or at least shot in a way that is not exploitative but still proves to be erotic. This has been a public service announcement.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Girlfriend Experience' arrives on home video from Anchor Bay in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, which houses the two 50GB Blu-rays along with a single insert advertising Starz's new mobile app. The first Blu-ray in the set is front-loaded with a promo for Season 2 of 'Outlander'. The main menu consists of a montage of footage from the series, with selections running horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-rays are Region A locked.
Each episode of 'The Girlfriend Experience' has been shot digitally using RED Epic Dragon digital cameras and is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Like many television shows shot digitally, the image shows strength when the material is shot outdoors, but weakens significantly indoors and in darker locations. There are some scenes that take place on the city streets of Toronto (doubling for the series' location of Chicago) that are deep, detailed, and full of color. When things move indoors, images are less detailed, and in many of the darker scenes (almost all of the bedroom/sex scenes in the movie), the image is much flatter looking and lacks a sense of both depth and sharpness.
The above, of course, isn't anything new – I've seen it in a lot of digitally shot material, and it's certainly not a reflection of any flaws with the transfer to Blu-ray. In terms of actual flaws or glitches here, I was hard pressed to find any at all, although I did pick up on some very minor aliasing in a few episodes. I didn't notice any problems with banding or noise. Black levels aren't inky deep, but they're solid enough that image delineation isn't an issue here. Facial features aren't extremely defined, but they're detailed enough that viewers won't feel they look unrealistic. My guess is they went with a slightly softer look so when the clothes do come off in these episodes, any minor body flaws are less apparent and not on display (something the actors probably appreciate as well).
So, the bottom line here is that there's nothing about the transfer of these shows that will 'wow' viewers, but they're still solid and free of any technical problems.
The primary audio track for each episode is English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio that isn't always noticeable – but that's only because huge chunks of many of these episodes just feature characters sitting around talking to one another, with little else in terms of aural effects – including, quite often, any background music.
That said, when things like background music and/or ambient noises do occur, one can get a sense of how nicely done the audio is. All the dialogue is front and center here, so the surrounds are primarily used for the soundtrack and other noises, such as the clinking of dinnerware in restaurants and bars the characters visit and the murmuring of patrons in those same places.
Everything is crisp and distinct here, and dynamic range is good. There are also no apparent glitches or flaws in the audio presentation.
In addition to 7.1 lossless track, a Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital track is also available. Subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
I wouldn't go so far as to say 'The Girlfriend Experience' is a great series, or even a really good one – but it did have a soap-opera-ish addictive quality to it that made me want to see what was going to happen next. These aren't the kind of episodes that you're going to want to watch again and again, but there's entertainment value to be found here if you give the show a chance. It's worth a look.