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Review: ‘The Girlfriend Experience’ Season 1 Dares You To Judge It

Review: 'The Girlfriend Experience' Season 1 Dares You To Judge It

Riley Keough

The very best thing about “The Girlfriend Experience” is that you can’t point to anything else like it on television. The intimate, stark story of Christine (Riley Keough), a young woman who finds a new life within the world of “transactional relationships,” is fundamentally singular, the result of trusting a few key players to create something very much on their own.

READ MORE: ‘The Girlfriend Experience’ Might Be Sexy, But It’s All About Control

With that, we’re referring to co-creators Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz, who wrote every episode together and traded off directing duties, but it also wouldn’t have been possible without Steven Soderbergh, who very deliberately crafted an environment for Kerrigan and Seimetz to make the show they wanted to make. The current era of “Peak TV” has overlapped with the influx of independent film talent coming to the world of serial programming. That’s not a coincidence. 

That’s the best thing about the first season of the series, which you can watch now in its entirety through the Starz stand-alone app, or on boring old regular cable TV week by week. There are plenty of other good things, though, to be sure. “GFE” is on an execution level unique in the TV landscape, with a look and tone that feels familiar to Soderbergh fans, but is across the board gorgeous to look at. 

Gorgeous, but also quite often antiseptic. There’s no clutter in Christine’s world, no disorder — she lives in beautiful, spacious Chicago apartments, visits high-class hotels and restaurants. Every surface seems to be made of polished glass and steel, and that’s matched by the show’s central lead. Hard and beautiful. A lot of times, a show finds its tone with its protagonist, and words that come to mind while describing Christine include “blunt” and “joyless.” But that doesn’t make it at all unwatchable. 

“GFE” makes excellent use of cliffhangers that will want to keep you watching — on the other hand, it’s tonally bleak enough that watching it all at once may have an impact on your mood. 

A humble recommendation, if “Girlfriend Experience” proves too dark or emotionless: The ITV/Showtime series “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” explored similar material, but with a significantly lighter tone. It wasn’t a perfect series, but star Billie Piper was charming and vulnerable, i.e. Keough’s complete opposite.
That is not at all meant to be a slight against Keough, for the record, who bears the weight of the show on her shoulders, but is more than capable of handling it. Even at her most unlikeable, she’s without a doubt captivating. There’s a deliberate divide between Christine and Chelsea, her professional nom de guerre — Christine rarely smiles, Chelsea’s face is lively and animated — and Keough manages to play both sides without ever letting us forget that it’s all, always, an act. Because all of us are so often acting, to some degree, wherever we might be. 

This is the sort of show where you find yourself thinking a lot about an actor’s hair — if only because part of the divide between Christine and Chelsea is that Christine keeps her hair pulled back, while a Chelsea scene immediately indicates itself with her hair let down. The hair itself is long and luscious, a reminder of the centuries-old societal notion that a woman’s beauty is in her hair. It is an object of value, to be utilized for one’s benefit when necessary. And Christine/Chelsea is all too conscious of that. 

We’ve gotten many, many paragraphs into this review without using the word prostitiution, because “GFE” feels much more intrigued by approaching the nights that Christine spends with customers as more complex. The stigma of getting paid for sex is present within the show, but beyond the fact that there is real danger for Christine, in her new calling becoming well-known, the morality of the issue isn’t on the table here. What the creators do feel interested in figuring out is what kind of person would be honestly, legitimately attracted to this work, and what kind of impact it might have on them. 

The easy version of this story is one where Christine falls into the game, gets punished for it and leaves it behind. But that isn’t at all what happens. There’s plenty of plot to contend with, as she tries to balance multiple lives and multiple worlds. But this stark, frank look at a very real thing, that really happens all the time, does tough but oddly beautiful work with exposing this quite real ethos. 

“The Girlfriend Experience” refuses to judge Christine, and thus defies you to judge its central thesis. It’s an extremely cynical outlook — the idea that every relationship, in the end, resembles a transaction. But on our most cynical days, doesn’t that feel true? 

Grade: A-

“The Girlfriend Experience” Season 1 can be watched now on the Starz app. Episode 1 premieres tonight on Starz. Check out the trailer below…

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21st century

CODY: We are in 2016. You can buy the Apple TV or Google Chromecast. And magic! You can watch the Starz app , Netflix or HBO Now on your 70 Inch TV. C’mon man… 2016. Duh…


Good review, except for the lame suggestion that watching it with" app" is better than watching it with "boring cable TV".
Thank you but I will take watching it on my 70 inch TV, sitting on my couch, off of my DVR, rather then fumbling to stream it over the Internet on my iPhone while on the bus


I just, got. funded $5230 working off my notebook this-month, and if you think that cool, my ex-girl has twin toddlers and made over 6852 bucks her first month. It feels so good making so much money when other people have to work for so much less.. K-0008

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Anna Flea

I think it’s incredibly boring and Riley’s character is almost dead and lacks emotions on every level. It’s so boring and her acting is normally better than the stoned faced faked emotions or lack there of. I’m dissapointed in her acting skills, the writing, the story line and can’t believe all this hype was for nothing. She would be better off playing a dead ghost who is a nympho and maybe she would have more character to her character. She’s absolutely horrible in every way.


Most people might judge the show from the outside looking in, these are the ones who make faces when previews come on. Some of us feel the need to give things at least 1 go, if it’s no good, we just keep watching, if it’s good enough, we’ll watch every episode. Then the rest of society who hangs in the midst, are the people who watch anything, as long as it distracts them from thinking about their own lives. I would place myself in the second catagory, I don’t think any emotions are carried in me towards those on television, it’s safe to say I bare no insecurities against stage makeup, plastic surgery, or camera/computer tricks, but if you think about it, this is the only true threat against this show. It’s written in a way that makes it unpredictable, one minute she seems unbreakable, and the next she’s having an extra mental break down. For any woman who hasn’t given this show a chance, who might be envious, or insecure, or whom just can’t relate, don’t try to put yourself in this characters shoes, put yourself in her skin, and her shoes. It might make it easier to understand. Her struggles are commonly shared, it’s her choice of resolution that we have trouble entertaining the thought. Believe it or not, her decision is not that uncommon especially not in Las vegas. So anyone who hasn’t given this show a shot, start with season 1 episode 1, just give it a shot, it gets better and better, it’ll suck you right in. I say take every opportunity to go another angle at life, even if it’s only an hour once a week and prerecorded in hollywood. Everyone needs a break from life once in a while.

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