On TV, there are two things happening that were once viewed as revolutionary but now appear to be day-to-day operation: adaptation and auteurship. However, a new spin on the latter is starting to take shape, and its revolution now continues in Starz’s 2016 take on The Girlfriend Experience.
Executive produced by Steven Soderbegh, the network released the first trailer for the new show earlier today. While seeming like a fresh take on the idea, there’s also a lot to discuss about its behind the scenes goings on.
For the unaware, what follows the official synopsis for the Girlfriend Experience TV show:
The Girlfriend Experience follows Christine Reade, a second year student at Chicago-Burnham Law School and a new intern at the prestigious firm of Kirkland & Allen. Working hard to establish herself at the firm, 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 very high price. Juggling two very different lives, Christine quickly finds herself drawn into the GFE world, attracted to the rush of control and intimacy. Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz are the co-creators, and wrote and directed all 13 episodes.
Take special note of that last line, “wrote and directed all 13 episodes.” That’s what we need to talk about.
On the small screen, it’s far from a secret that the episode director’s the lowest rung on the creative ladder. Their job is to go in, deliver the script as written, make it match with what’s established and leave. Unfortunately, what this creates in some cases is a level of animosity among those that are shuffled in an out without any real chance to leave a mark on the show they’ve worked on. In order to counter this, some shows have begun keeping a list of “regulars” that know the show and can always work within its borders. However, Steven Soderbergh made one key change to this that brought him great success on his last series, The Knick, and it’s a model he appears to have likewise adapted for The Girlfriend Experience.
For Cinemax’s The Knick, Soderbergh took the unconventional approach of directing every episode of the series’ first season – which he continued to do in season two. What this ended up creating was a sense of visual auteurship rarely seen on TV. Sure, Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Mr. Robot are very auteur driven shows – lead by their various showrunners – but The Knick added a fresh layer to the idea. What if there was a consistent voice not just on the page, but also behind the camera on set? It’s not really something thought about on the small screen, but it can be very important to the right kind of TV show.
By having the same team direct every episode of The Girlfriend Experience, it’s very likely going to add a new layer to the show’s palette – a layer that could put it over the top and give it a chance to escape the shadow of Soderbergh’s original 2009 film (which made waves at the time for starring adult film star Sasha Grey). Especially in today’s “too much TV” world, making oneself standout not just through character and story but also visually is all too important. Audiences need reason to stick with you. They need reason to view you as something different, and one of the most efficient ways to do that is through a consistent creative voice and vision.
As it stands, this is a good trailer and great way to introduce people to the new Starz series. That said, the potential for it to become something truly special has been greatly increased by what we now know about the team at its helm.
The Girlfriend Experience premieres in 2016 on Starz.