As Starz navigates its way through the treacherous realm of premium subscription television, it seems to get bolder with each new step.
“Structurally, you can really do something radical in television,” said Lodge Kerrigan, speaking at the Television Critics Association on Friday. Case in point: Starz’ provocative drama set in the world of high-class courtesans, The Girlfriend Experience, for which Kerrigan serves as co-creator and co-executive producer. Entering its second season, the show’s 14 episodes have been split into two seven-part arcs, one helmed by Kerrigan, the other by filmmaker and actor Amy Seimetz (Alien: Covenant). Kerrigan’s arc takes place in D.C., against the backdrop of the corrupting influence of dark money in the upcoming 2018 U.S. mid-term elections. Meanwhile, Seimetz’ occurs in New Mexico, where a former high-end escort has been placed in the Witness Protection Program in order to escape an abusive relationship – only to struggle to escape the pull of sex work.
These parallel plots have totally new characters and storylines from season one and barely share anything with each other, though “there is thematic mirroring between them,” Kerrigan said. As a result, they can be watched separately from one another or as a single two-part piece in dialogue with itself.
“Given the way TV is moving forward, you can pair them together, but you can also have the experience of watching a three-and-a-half-hour movie that I have written and directed, and one that Lodge has written and directed,” added Seimetz. “But you can also pair them and have a conversation.”
Starz’ willingness to play with the form could bode well as it looks to compete with the likes of both HBO and digital behemoths such as Netflix, where anything goes in terms of format.
But any experiments will remain in service of its core offering: fan-based programming that is “obsessable.” The news announced Friday that the network will be working with Twilight maestro Stephenie Meyer on the forthcoming supernatural thriller The Rook may be the epitome of this agenda, but it’s also prominent in less flashy fare such as a four-episode miniseries based on E.M. Forster’s Howards End set to launch in 2018. The films of Merchant Ivory, including a previous adaptation of Howards End, have made a rather stuffy vision of early-20th-century England pervasive in show business, but Starz’ version has its sights on making it “as accessible as possible to modern audiences,” said star Hayley Atwell, speaking at TCA press. “We wanted to breathe life into these characters without making them feel in any way stilted.
Archives from the era and location helped with the different approach, revealing “fantastic photographs of [women] striding down the streets, cigarette in hand,” Atwell said. But the real stroke of genius was tapping Oscar-winning writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, whose films such as Manchester by the Sea and You Can Count On Me, as well as a slew of acclaimed theatrical works, have displayed a glorious gift for gab, a singular talent for infusing the most mundane conversations with crackling energy.
Atwell felt that “the way the sisters finished each other’s sentences” in Lonergan’s script and engaged in “overlapping dialogue” was an appealing and entertaining way of showing their closeness, and honoring a line from Forster’s original text describing them as one goddess with many limbs. It’s a fresh and appealing way of updating subject matter that will always be timeless regardless of the period: two women navigating life and love in an ever-changing world.