[06/16/08 - 12:23 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" (Showtime)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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(Mondays at 10:30/9:30c starting tonight)

The network's description: "SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL introduces viewers to a contemporary woman. She is smart, strong and confident and, like many modern women, she is struggling to balance her personal and professional life. In her case this pendulum swings between her job as a legal secretary, where she is known as Hannah, and her career as one of London's high-class call girls, where her clients simply refer to her as Belle, the answer to all their wildest fantasies. Trying to keep these two worlds from colliding results in some interesting situations and some humorous circumstances, including keeping her secret life from her family and her best friend Ben. The series stars British actress Billie Piper ("Doctor Who") in the dual role."

What did they leave out: Production is already underway on a second season of 12 episodes while a third is also in the works.

The plot in a nutshell: "The first thing you should know about me is I'm a whore," Hannah (Billie Piper) explains (to the camera no less). But not the abused by her dad/uncle/brother or the sexually dysfunctional type everyone always assumes. Hannah likes sex, likes money, enjoys her job and doesn't think any more or less of herself because of it. But there are rules to follow, rules which keep Hannah and her "secret" life as call girl "Belle" separate. Whether it be separate rooms, separate cell phones or even separate wardrobes - there has to be a definitive line between them that can't be crossed. After all, even her nice guy best friend Ben (Iddo Goldberg) thinks she's a legal secretary at an international law firm which conveniently forces her to keep odd hours. More importantly, said separation allows her to forget about Hannah when being Belle - and nothing pleases her more. She's great a being Belle, at figuring out who her clients are and what they want. That is until her latest client Daniel (apologies as I didn't recognize the actor), who in a first for Belle - rejects her. It seems he's looking for someone normal like Hannah, not a glamorous girl like Belle. It's a change of pace that intrigues her, one which finds her crossing the very line she keeps on telling herself she cannot cross. And with that, our journey into Hannah and Belle's world begins. Subsequent episodes see Belle starting to forgo her duties to madame Stephanie (Cherie Lunghi) in favor of exploring her own needs while her relationship with Ben changes when he announces he's proposed to his girlfriend.

What works: Whether it be Belle demanding all of her clients shower before any of the fun begins or how she only wears men's deodorant with a client, our education into the world of "Secret Diary" proves to be an interesting one. The same goes for Hannah's perspective on being a call girl - it's not so much about empowerment as it is about being able to do something she enjoys without much hassle. Life has dealt her the pretty card and it's easy to coast on it, especially with her rules. It's only when those rules are challenged then - as it is in the pilot by Daniel or episode four by Ben - do we see the real person behind Hannah and Belle at work. Helping tie everything together is the lovely Billie Piper, who makes Hannah and Belle unique enough without forgetting the other is always present in some capacity.

What doesn't: I'm not a huge fan of the talking to the camera devise as it often makes the protagonist too powerful. Stopping and starting the narrative for a few quips is fun, but having someone always at the helm can get distracting rather quickly. The same goes for the show's somewhat rose-colored portrayal of the prostitution business. While I realize that the show is based on a real person's experiences, it's kind of a hard sell that the worst that could happen to Belle is the sociological equivalent of a bad date. There doesn't seem to be many consequences for Hannah/Belle's choices (at least in the few episodes I've seen) beyond her wrestling with having to keep her identities separate. That's not to say the world of "Secret Diary" isn't interesting or fun, it just doesn't feel real.

The bottom line: A fun escape but not quite required viewing.

  [june 2008]  


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