Secret Diary Of A Call Girl - Season One
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // Unrated // $29.98 // January 6, 2009
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted January 27, 2009
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"Escort, hooker, prostitute, whore: I don't mind what you call me ... that's just semantics."

-- "Belle"/Hannah

The word "prostitute" might elicit several images in your mind: a skirt-and-stocking harlot on the street or a high-class courtesan in a ballroom dress, a background of sexual abuse along with troubled family relations, as well as a life either filled with buckets of cash or plagued by a dire search for the next trick. Billie Piper, the star of Secret Diary of a Call Girl, crafts a character out of "Belle" that quickly dumps all of those images into a dumpster with her first moments on camera. She's not the victim of family trouble, not addicted to anything harmful, and isn't, by any stretch, strapped for cash. "Belle" loves money, and loves sex ... period.

Or is it Hannah, her real name, who loves both? She's got an angel and a devil on her shoulders -- bet you can guess which one's which -- who come together to build the character before us. Yet it seems like there's not even an entity for the two parts of her conscience to fight over, instead crafting her into a person comfortable in having no true personal identity. That's a dollop of the enjoyable complexity present in this British ITV2 import television series, a semi-erotic blast of charismatic confetti more akin to "Ferris Bueller's Day as a Prostitute" than anything Luis Buñuel would direct.

Season One:

Amid beautifully hazy photography that follows her metropolitan London lifestyle as she caters to a smorgasbord of tangibly stereotypical johns, Secret Diary of a Call Girl becomes a journey for both "Belle"/Hannah and her audience to answer all of her internal questions at her own profession-loving pace. She's safe -- working with an "agent" for client arrangement and keeping hygiene paramount -- and highly discreet, never allowing the personal lives separating "Belle" and Hannah to intersect. Even her closest, and only, friend Ben doesn't know about her secret life, let alone her incredibly normal family, as they all believe her to be an international law secretary who skirts off at all hours of the night to do unspeakably mundane chores. Little do they know ... well, you know.

Instead, she dives head-on into the world of ménage a trios, S&M, double-shift hotel work and "girlfriend experiences" -- and, though it's all hush-hush and shunned, "Belle"'s erotic adventures are explorative and sensual, yet surprisingly docile for both her and her clientele. That's the true gravity underneath Secret Diary of a Call Girl, as it attempts to humanize a taboo world through humorous stereotype-blasting depictions of "paid companionship". It does so by Piper's direct communication with the audience, a way that shatters the invisible fourth wall between them and her world. She not only gives sly, revealing looks to the camera, but also verbalizes and/or gestures every internal clank within the gears of her brain. Her explanation on how she sizes up her clients are a humorous blend of double-standard typecasting and yearning, all the while revealing the unpredictable nature of assumptions and hypothetical guesses that revolves around sexual desire. It's all with a nudge and a wink, and it can be charmingly jovial as she lathers us in her world.

"Belle" also tells us how to spot a prostitute in the pilot episode: don't look for the "fuck me" boots and glitzy make-up, but more for the direct, fabulous woman in a business suit who is both awe-striking and somewhat forgettable. Truer words couldn't be spoken about Billie Piper's portrayal as Belle either, as she embodies precisely what she's talking about. Through the no-holds-barred script and touchy-themed material, Piper's asked to become a mish-mash between a quiet homebody and a sex-driven businesswoman who knows her craft without knowing her clear-cut boundaries. She delivers that role assuredly and with sensuality, but with tingeing glimpses into her growing pains as she learns more about both herself and the clients that she services. Secret Diary of a Call Girl wouldn't be the same without Piper, who gives each dose of "education" we receive a little extra dash of spunk.

Each of its eight episodes consists of roughly twenty to twenty-three (20-23) minutes, usually divvied up as fifteen (15) or so minutes of actual core content pertaining to "Belle"'s flavor of the week ... and the rest? Left to the devices of cinematography, it consists of candy-bright, starkly-contrasted scenes of a sexual nature, draped in a foggy ambiance that adds a dream-like quality to a reality that most will likely not touch. The series' cloudy visual style helps to keep it dream like, somehow reconstructing that fourth wall that "Belle"/Hanna continuously tears down with her quips, winks, shimmies, shakes, and insights. But, just like the character she describes in her first encounter with us, the show doesn't scream for attention nor try its damnedest to make us laugh, cringe, or get too excited. Secret Diary of a Call Girl has plenty of fun in being itself, capturing portraits of semi-ordinary people -- especially the focal character "Belle" -- as they push their boundaries in search of a gratifying and comforting rhythm in their chaotic lives.

The DVD:

Lionsgate lets Secret Diary of a Call Girl loose in a standard two-disc keepcase presentation with attractively-design artwork. It comes with a slick, raised slipcover that accentuates "Belle" planted firmly in her cocktail seat.

Video and Audio:

Attractive as the haze may be in its 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, it doesn't come together into a terribly good DVD transfer for the series. Riddled with on-and-off combing and ghosting issues that arise with each episode, many instances of moderately-paced movement from the characters look fairly unattractive. Equally as off-putting are some garbled, muddy details with the set design and backdrops, along with overabundance of noise. Both of these issues are intermittent, as several other sequences have a few surprising instances of detail and clarity to skin textures and To counterbalance these digital hiccups, Lionsgate made certain to provide intensely rich colors that pop through the image's hazy disposition. And, though sharpness isn't a big consideration considering the desired look, edge enhancement can't be spotted against any contours. Secret Diary of a Call Girl aims to achieve a hazy look, but the line dividing solid image presentation and digital mess gets crossed a few too many times.

Almost as underwhelming -- but not quite -- is the English 5.1 Dolby Digital presentation, which can essentially be antiquated as a front-heavy track with rear channels that carry nothing but tunes. Verbal clarity becomes paramount in this series, something that's got to be replicated well in order to convey the mood. Here, it's hit and miss with audibility, no matter the efforts from the universally articulate cast members. Then again, there's quieter moments where the clarity can really surprise you, as can the scant ambient sounds that pop up now and again. The music stretches its legs out appropriately, dropping to the lower frequency channel in a few choice spots. Depending on the set and the conditions, Secret Diary of a Call Girl can either serve well or just ... serve the purpose. English and Spanish subtitles are available to accompany the English language option.

Special Features:

Interview with Billie Piper (6:46):
Lasting a little under seven (7) minutes, this interview time concentrates on Billie Piper getting into character, its carriage across the pond to the United States, as well as some of her personal "tastes" in the bedroom. It also focuses on her transition from music performer to actress, her "first love". Though short, it's a nice and candid interview segment.

Final Thoughts:

Secret Diary of a Call Girl aims to please; it drops Billie Piper's candid, scantily-clad self in your lap, lets her give you a narrated tour through her life as a high-class prostitute, then makes the mistake of allowing the audience to see the occasional ways in which she follies relationships and clientele whims. "Belle"/Hannah is a great character, one that's easy to warm up to once you've received equal introduction to her two sides. It's a simple, relaxed confection of a series that aims for dry laughs and even drier contemplations about identity complications -- and becomes fully amusing in the process. Lionsgate offers the first season in a serviceable package, one that comes Recommended to those who wish that Sex and the City had just a little more edge.

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