Season 2 of The Girlfriend Experience – which premiered November 5 on Starz – is pushing the boundaries of narrative in television.
Inspired by Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film of the same name, the newest iteration of The Girlfriend Experience (of which Soderbergh is an executive producer) further develops the premise of the original film, which followed the story of a young lawyer who led a double life as a high-end escort.
While the first season of the series is pretty straightforward in terms of its narrative, season two shakes things up by exploring two separate and unrelated storylines at the same time. Despite sharing the same name and still being a part of the same TV show, the two new stories follow different women as The Girlfriend Experience continues to explore what it means to be a sex worker in the modern world.
Co-creators of the anthology drama, Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz, each took half of the season’s ordered episodes and attempted to make them their own – working independently of their co-showrunner to create separate narratives with their own unique characters and style.
Starz has been airing two episodes of the show every week since the season premiered – one from each storyline – and will continue to do so until the season ends later this year.
Not only is the distribution of The Girlfriend Experience challenging how we watch TV (since this season is going to wrap up in half the time as the last), but the fact that they are running two stories simultaneously is going to dramatically change how people interact with this particular narrative as it’s being released and after the season has wrapped up.
Even now, viewers have the option of watching one or both of the storylines, depending on where their interests lay. Come the end of the season, new viewers (or those re-watching the season) will be given the opportunity to watch the stories as they were originally released or to watch each installment in its entirety before moving on to the next one.
Most viewers are used to watching their favorite TV shows one episode at a time spread out over two or three months of any given year. Shows like The Girlfriend Experience are changing the landscape of television and how we consume narratives.
But that’s not to say this is the only show challenging what it means to watch TV and what you can do with the medium. Shows like American Horror Story and The Twilight Zone have already explored the idea of an anthological TV show. Even Game of Thrones offers an anthology-like approach to storytelling, by focusing on many characters during a given episode.
Others, like Netflix’s Stranger Things or Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, have challenged the traditional distribution of a television show by providing every episode of a given season on the same date.
Netflix is looking to push things even farther than that by investing in interactive episodes of popular TV shows. Earlier this year, we saw the release of an interactive episode of Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale, which gave younger viewers dozens of decisions to make throughout its length and the opportunity to re-watch the episode multiple times and get completely different outcomes.
And this isn’t even Soderbergh’s first step into reinventing the genre. His new HBO show Mosaic offers an interconnected look at the six-episode series with a free-to-download mobile app. The app resembles the way someone might binge watch a Netflix show by offering all 7.5 hours of its interactive content at once. Users will be able to choose what order they interact with the stories in and how quickly they do so. The actual series will air over five nights on HBO.
While reactions to the second season of The Girlfriend Experience have been lukewarm overall, and the new ventures by HBO and Netflix have their own problems that need to be eventually addressed (mostly related to how these apps function for the end user), that doesn’t negate what these shows are doing to push the boundaries of traditional TV and storytelling.
Time will ultimately tell whether any of these approaches will be worthwhile in the future or if we will see any of them in different forms (I would definitely consider the possibility of more interactive Netflix shows), but they definitely prove that new shows and new filmmakers will continue to challenge the medium. Technology is constantly changing and giving us new opportunities to tweak and modify the stories that we consume.
The standard formula of one episode per week of the same storyline seems to be a thing of the past. That’s not to say that it will disappear entirely, because the formula has obviously worked in past, but things are definitely going to continue to change within the entertainment industry.
There’s one thing we do know: After this, stories will never be the same.
About The Contributor
Brie Barbee is a freelance writer and editor from Portland, OR. She specializes in pop culture criticism and copy-editing. When she isn’t writing, Brie enjoys reading, crocheting, playing video games, and snuggling with her two cats, Luna and Tally.