‘The Girlfriend Experience’ Review: Riley Keough Perfectly Cast in Very Different Kind of Show

Show avoids the usual tropes in a call-girl character study

Last Updated: April 11, 2016 @ 8:41 AM

Drama comes in all forms, but it isn’t often unfolded in the half-hour format. That’s part of the allure of Starz’s new, very-adult series “The Girlfriend Experience,” a dark show that digs deep into the world of paid escorts and the women who follow that path.

As viewers are pulled further into the complex system bit-by-bit, it’s a slow burn from which it’s hard to avert your eyes, even when not much is actually happening. It’s easy to see why men pay such high prices for women like this.

At the core of the series is Riley Keough (Elvis’s granddaughter) as law student Christine Reade, a smart girl who is struggling to get by financially and is good at telling people what they want to hear. That much is demonstrated early on, as she applies for internship positions at law firms, all the while letting loose with her sexuality during the evenings. It all makes her the perfect candidate for the escort service, which she easily enters via her best friend Avery (Kate Lyn Sheil).

It’s an interesting dynamic between the two as Christine (escort name Chelsea) enters the world in which her friend has been living while Avery begins to slip. While Christine slowly gives into the world she’s presented — allowing her “manager” Jacqueline (Alexandra Castillo) to put the down payment on a nicer condo, drinking more than she did at the outset — Avery loses her grip on the guys she’s been dating, and gets the cold shoulder from a manager focused on the pretty new thing. It’s an empowering and misogynistic message wrapped into one, as both sides are explore their respective rise and fall.

What truly sets the series apart from others with similar subject matter is writers Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz‘s decision to ground Christine in a working reality, rather than rely on the trope of a messy personal life to explain away her decisions. She is a perfectly smart, capable woman who openly heads into and accepts a choice that she’s presented, seeing an opportunity for herself and taking it. Whether it’s the right one, or you agree with her morals, is beside the point. This is a character study and the lead doesn’t have to be beautifully flawed in order to get in over her head.

In that vein, Keough is perfectly cast. With her rare smiles and grounded personality, we don’t see many emotional highs and lows. There’s an intrigue to the character that’s not often seen on television. Viewers won’t feel sorry for these characters or even necessarily relate to them, but they’ll pay attention.

“The Girlfriend Experience” debuts Sunday, April 10 on Starz.