Starz’s anthology series The Girlfriend Experience — a reimagining of executive producer Steven Soderbergh’s acclaimed 2009 movie of the same name — chronicles the relationships between exclusive escorts and their clients, for whom they provide far more than just sex.
If the show’s title and description have you thinking it’s something of a purely titillating nature, you should reconsider. Starz promotes the series as part of its “commitment to spotlighting premium stories and narratives by, about and for women and underrepresented audiences,” and any viewing of the series so far has made that clear; while at times erotic, it is no late-night “Skinamax” title, but a compelling study of human nature and connections.
Season 3, premiering Sunday, May 2, at 8pm ET/PT is no exception. It, in fact, may be the most cinematic and artfully presented season to date, written and stylishly directed by filmmaker Anja Marquardt (She’s Lost Control), who brilliantly uses sight and sound in an almost hypnotic manner to give the technology-themed season an air of feeling sort of like something out of Blade Runner or Black Mirror.
Julia Goldani Telles (The Affair), who leads the cast this season, explains what makes the series not what people might expect.
“The problem with TV and films for forever,” she explains, “is it’s been from the male gaze. And so, of course, [some people] assumed that The Girlfriend Experience is something titillating for people to objectify a woman and get off on. … [But] it’s more about the experience, and it’s more about the empowering, choice-driven woman who has the privilege of being able to be compensated quite nicely to provide a service, and also has an entire life and story and motivation behind her, beyond providing service for these men. And [she is] actually gaining more from these men in their games, in the long run.”
Telles plays Iris, an American neuroscience major who takes a hiatus from school to work at a London tech firm by day, and for an escort service known as The V at night. As she begins to explore the transactional world of the Girlfriend Experience, Iris quickly learns that her client sessions provide her with a compelling edge in the relationship-based AI tech her firm is working on, and vice versa. She then begins to question whether her actions are driven by free will and heads down a deep path of exploration.
“[Iris is] a very complicated character,” Telles says. “She is extremely intellectual and she intellectualizes her emotions. … She’s very methodical and really trying to observe people and plan her next step. She loves information. She wants to collect data. … I think that what motivates technology, in part, is our fears and our desires, and our fears and our desires can help create these things that we crave. [And Iris is] really interested in how human wants, needs and desires intersect with technology.
“Along with that, she wants control. She wants power. … I think that the great thing about this show is that people can draw their own conclusions about where [Iris] stands.”