The Girlfriend Experience Exists at the Intersection of Sex, Commerce, and Technology | TV/Streaming


Julia Goldani Telles (“The Affair”) really centers the season—I believe she’s in every scene of the five episodes sent to press—as Iris, a neuroscience major who works at a high-powered tech company called NGM. The season opens with a VR meeting between Iris and an interviewer for The V, a high-priced escort service. From the beginning, connection is being defined in a different way than usual—an interview taking place between two people who aren’t actually sharing the same space. Her resume and confidence get her the job, but she still has to pass the test of a real client that night. Connection can’t be only virtual.

Iris gets the job, and immediately starts trying to distinguish her day life and night life, taking on a new name in the latter as Cassie, although the line starts to blur (doesn’t it always) when she realizes that her experiences as a “girlfriend” could be valuable to the technology she’s developing at NGM. She tells herself that she’s trying to make herself into a better partner for her valued clients, but she’s also using what she learns there, sometimes surreptitiously, to advance her tech and give her a leg up with her tech guru boss. She’s a user, but in a very specific, unique, modern way that gives the season a fresh narrative momentum. Escorts eventually learn things about their clients that the clients can’t express to anyone else. What do these things tell us about human nature? And how could a tech company use that knowledge for the next great advancement in A.I. or even predictive technology?

If it sounds like a lot for a half-hour drama, it sometimes feels like it is. This is a show that works more on a macro level—when one steps back to consider the whole picture—than on a micro one, where it’s often blank affect and sterile environments can feel a bit overly scripted. I’m not sure if I just got used to it, or if the writing loosened up a bit, but early dialogue has a habit of underlining Marquardt’s themes in a way that doesn’t sound organic. Too many of these people, including Iris/Cassie, sound like A.I. assistants already, speaking theme instead of developing character. And it doesn’t help that Marquardt leans way too heavily on a dreamy synth score that often sounds like something that would be playing in the expensive spas that Cassie’s clients visit.

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