The sex is paid for and the city is London in Showtime's neo-comedy "Secret Diary of a Call Girl," the saga of an intelligent and attractive single gal trying to navigate life's potholes while living a secret life. In voiceover and direct-to-camera observations, Billie Piper spells out the rules and the questions in an oh-so-Carrie Bradshaw tone, and then steps into dilemmas both significant and small. The show has a smart approach similar to that of AMC's conman drama "Hustle," playing off staid British manners and a star character at peace with living on the wrong side of the law.

The sex is paid for and the city is London in Showtime’s neo-comedy “Secret Diary of a Call Girl,” the saga of an intelligent and attractive single gal trying to navigate life’s potholes while living a secret life. In voiceover and direct-to-camera observations, Billie Piper spells out the rules and the questions in an oh-so-Carrie Bradshaw tone, and then steps into dilemmas both significant and small. The show has a smart approach similar to that of AMC’s conman drama “Hustle,” playing off staid British manners and a star character at peace with living on the wrong side of the law.

Billie Piper is a commanding presence as Hannah, who goes by Belle in her professional life. Hannah is levelheaded and values independence and control above all. Apparently well-off, she draws insights into behavior as men enter and exit her life, treating them all with heartfelt TLC. The mainstays of her existence — her madam Stephanie (Cheryl Lunghi), best friend Ben (Iddo Goldberg) and parents (Toyah Wilcox, Stuart Organ) — throw her curveballs; she searches for solutions, which at times include clients.

First four episodes raise a string of questions: What is a woman doing wrong when she can’t get an attractive young man to perform sexually? When you are paid not to give in to desire, and desire burns hotter than ever, how do you decide the right move? When a sibling becomes a parent, how do life’s expectations change? How close can a man and a woman be when the man is romantically involved with another woman? On top of those quandaries, she’s facing a learning curve as she becomes a dominatrix.

Skein is shot nudity-free in a way that puts titillation on the backburner — this is no “Tell Me You Love Me” — but choices are made to keep the oddities of the sex profession explicit. There’s no glamour here other than the way Hannah goes about her day, living two lives that are split neatly and maintained impeccably. Even her flat is divided between the professional and the personal. (For some reason, the johns all come to her place).

Yann DeMange directed the first four episodes, and like Gotham in “Sex and the City,” London is part of the cast here. Days are often overcast but never ominous or even rainy; there’s a bustling energy in the public scenes that serve as a backdrop as she moves stealthily about.

DeMange draws out the helplessness and frustrations of the men who visit Belle, which are complemented by Tat Radcliffe’s framing of the action.

Secret Diary of a Call Girl

Showtime, Mon. June 16, 10:30 p.m.

Production

Filmed in the U.K. by Showtime Entertainment. Executive producer, Greg Brenman, Avril Macrory, Michael Foster; producers, Chrissy Skins, Rebecca de Souza, Roanna Benn; director, Yann DeMange; writer, Lucy Prebble.

Crew

Camera, Tat Radcliffe; production designer, Greg Shaw; editor, Chris Wyatt; casting, Julia Duff. 30 MIN.

Cast

Hannah - Billie Piper Stephanie - Cheryl Lunghi Ben - Iddo Goldberg Mom - Toyah Wilcox Dad - Stuart Organ

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