The Girlfriend Experience Is Not Secret Diary of a Call Girl

One of my favorite TV series is and will always be Secret Diary of a Call Girl, so I knew that I had to check out The Girlfriend Experience. Now that I’ve sat down with the first four episodes of the new Starz/Super Channel series, I have some thoughts … specifically on how it has little in common with Secret Diary of a Call Girl.

Before I get into my initial impressions of The Girlfriend Experience, here’s the official synopsis of the show in case it’s not on your radar:

Christine Reade (Riley Keough) is a law student and an intern at a prestigious firm but 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 price. Juggling two lives, Christine is drawn into the GFE world, attracted to the rush of control and intimacy.

From the very first episode, The Girlfriend Experience feels different from Secret Diary of a Call Girl. Christine’s world view feels more dark, cold and detached whereas Hannah approaches life and her work with a sense of joy.

One of the main differences is that Christine doesn’t seem to view this as a career path. She never wavers in her goal to be a lawyer. She continues to pursue law school and work at her internship. Sex gives her a sense of power and control. It’s a necessary biological function for her — like breathing or sleeping — so why not make some money front it. Hannah, or Belle as she’s professionally known, enjoys her work. It’s exciting, and affords her a glamorous lifestyle: a nice flat, beautiful clothes, and trips around the world. She enjoys sex. There’s a sense of whimsy. Throughout most of the series, when she contemplates giving up the call girl life, she is drawn back in.

Hannah is a likeable character. You want to see her happy. You want to see her win. Some might even say you live vicariously through her. She’s a girlfriend that you share secrets with over cocktails. Christine is a more serious, detached, seemingly unhappy character. From what I recall, you don’t see her laugh until the fourth episode, which is also where you start to get into her mind a bit. Initially, there’s no romance; every action is cold and calculated. It’s tough to connect with her. She has a DGAF attitude, not preoccupied with what people think of her. Even when her night job potentially infiltrates her day job, she handles it cooly. At one point, another character says she’s “like Ted Bundy” and she questions whether she could be a sociopath. She does show some fire when she thinks a friend is being taken advantage of, so there’s probably compassion buried deep beneath that composed exterior.

There are a couple of ways that these two leads are similar. Both question authority, like the percentage that their “madam” takes, or calling out when friends aren’t treated fairly. I wouldn’t say that either feels like a victim of circumstance. They enter this world willingly.

As a viewer, The Girlfriend Experience makes you feel like you’re watching Christine from a distance, observing voyeuristically without any attachment. Secret Diary of a Call Girl treats you more like a guest that is invited along on Hannah’s journey. It’s tough to connect with Christine but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t a fascinating subject. The Girlfriend Experience may be too dark for some sensibilities, but Riley Keough is exquisite as Christine. I’m intrigued to see how this story plays out, and how Christine learns and grows as the season continues.

Photos Courtesy of Starz and Showtime

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