The first series of The Girlfriend Experience was, and remains, groundbreaking. Those unfamiliar with the series may find this statement to be deceptively hyperbolic. How, in the days of a myriad of streaming services, can one series be referred to in such a way? Simply through reasserting and redefining the confines and constraints of what television can be.
Co-creators Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz have, in creating the series, intentionally set out with the purpose of ensuring that they do not adhere to the predefined television narratives or styles. The first series of the anthology narrative focused on Riley Keough’s Christine, a law student who engages in call girl work. The focus was entirely progressive in its presentation, with Christine’s power and desire to partake in such work never in doubt. The series stylistically too was utterly refreshing. Restrained, but perfectly posited music, with stark settings and little camera movement, the direction allowed the narrative to simply unfold.
Series 2, moves the focus away from Christine, to a triptych of characters, who, thus far, have not met. Both Kerrigan and Seimetz have taken on each half of the running order for the series and made the episodes entirely independent of one another (including writing, direction and characters). The first strand of the narrative centres on Anna and Erica (Louisa Krause and Anna Friel), and the various political entanglements that they become caught up in through each of their sphere of work. Anna, a call girl, is privy to the political discussions of the powerful through her presumed anonymity and powerlessness. The men that Anna meet view her simply as an object, one who is only present to serve their means and desires, and it is this that proves to be their hamartia. Anna, through the men’s perception of her, becomes entirely empowered and is able to provide delicate information to Erica’s powerbroker.
The second narrative strand features Bria (Carmen Ejogo), the mistress of a crimelord, who, through contacting the police, is compelled to become part of a witness protection programme. Through her newfound state, one which no longer contains the riches and wealth of being married to a criminal, finds herself compelled to continually manipulate.
Thus far, four episodes in, it is apparent that the very identifiable and specific aesthetic is still present. Yet, the focus, while engaging, is simply not as compelling as that of Christine’s. Perhaps it will develop in time, but the focus simply doesn’t connect in the same manner. Bria’s story is the stronger narrative, but Erica and Anna’s in its highly charged moments does, at times, feel like it’s simply subservient to a rather typical male gaze. Christine’s sexuality, entirely her own, while overt, never truly felt like it was pandering to a gendered audience, yet Anna and Erica’s does. Their numerous sex scenes are not always necessary to narrative development, and as such, do at times serve to merely titillate rather than make any specific statement.