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Showtime has run the first couple of episodes of a new series: “The Affair” (original airings on Sunday evenings at 10pm, 9pm Central, with rebroadcasts throughout the week) which has a lot of really great stuff for any writer to chew on when it comes to interpersonal relationships. I can see how it potentially could become a series to not just watch over and over, but to study.


The concept of the story is deceptively simple, or should that be simply deceptive? We are seeing the tale told in flashbacks from an as yet unrevealed number of years in the future, explained from the points of view of the two participants. Noah (played by Dominic West - Best known to American audiences as Jimmy McNulty from HBO's long running series "The Wire") is a new novelist and Brooklyn high school teacher, out with his family on a summer vacation stay at his wildly successful Father-in-law writer’s estate, to craft his second book. Alison (played by Ruth Wilson) is a waitress at a roadside diner they arrive at shortly before getting to their destination, near Montauk and the far reaches of Long Island. It's already fascinating with two British actors playing these two lead roles as American as a cuppa joe and a piece of pie.

The bonding moment comes when the youngest daughter chokes while sitting in the luncheon booth. In Noah’s remembrance, he rescued his daughter. In Alison’s version, she saved the day. In either event, why a restaurant worker didn’t know the Heimlich maneuver is puzzling. But that’s far from the most unusual element of this show.

The intriguing quality is in the tantalizing clues that are dropped like breadcrumbs leading us to that destination. Alison lost her three to four year old son about a year before the affair began, making her version of the early part of the story more somber. Both participants have very attractive and accomplished spouses (Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson), heightening the stakes. Circumstances of a small area, limited people and frequent path crossings mean that there is no escaping the constant opportunity of seeing that other person, with other family members starting to weave themselves into the skein of this torrid and potentially terrible tapestry.

It’s helpful to remember that we are not seeing the events, but viewing the Rashomon Effect: the differing memories of the people as they recount the tale to a police officer, years later. Why a police officer? It seems someone died. It was apparently an accident, but possibly not. But so far, we only know it was a male, and that he was struck by a vehicle on a road to a club. The hint is, Alison’s husband is the victim, but that hasn’t been confirmed. And Alison’s married name was Lockhart during these flashbacks, but the detective refers to her as Ms. Bailey, a woman who already has another child as these interviews progress.

It’s fascinating to watch the two versions of the story as they are recounted and we, as viewers, match up the elements that are similar and are completely different. Who really seduced whom, and who really made it all happen? What did Noah notice and what made Alison aware?

Since it is told as a memory, and the direct to the detective comments from our two lovebirds clearly is masking their own remembrances, sometimes even to the point of full blown lies, based on their narration versus what we see on screen, we can be certain that neither version is going to be the definitive truth. This makes all of the subtle differences that much more important. After all, do we trust what Alison remembers more than Noah? Are the things they remember identically any more true than the things they don’t? The axis on which this world is spinning is constantly shifting, which makes for a dizzying experience from every angle.

The only glaring thing about the telling of this story is That Room. Our detective, interviewing both Noah and Alison (at separate times, of course), has them in a lockdown interrogation room complete with heavy doors and one way mirrors. We are informed that no one is a suspect and that these are routine interview sessions. The demeanor of the chat is very relaxed and conversational. Yet, there is a foreboding sense that maybe someone is headed for the hoosegow, with variations of the classic “Colombo” line – “Just one more question,” coming from our lawman at the end of the segments.

Full credit to the production team, as they present both sides of this story, with those differences that let you see into the minds of these two people, what they found important and what they hoped was true about the interactions they experienced. Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi are the program’s creators, and are being remarkably even-handed about how the story is progressing. No good or bad guys so far, except for Noah’s father-in-law, who everyone agrees is a dick, I shit you not!

The setting, the water, the sunsplashed shores, the rustic feel all add to a lovely setting for the action, and the awareness of how interrelated all of the people are makes everything seem very familiar quickly. Plus, we are treated to a truly powerhouse lineup of actors, with the four principals all heavyweights at their craft, and some great support from actors Mare Winningham as Alison’s Mother-in-law, Victor Williams as our police officer, and Kaija Matiss, best known for a series of yogurt commercials until now, where she’s Alison’s sister-in-law. In fact, everyone in the cast always seems to hit the right note, even if it’s a slightly different tune in each version.

“The Affair” sounded like a trite, overdone and tedious concept, but it is absolutely anything but, and plays out in a fascinating, telling, and humanistic way, and is a great case study in how to give texture and balance to characters and to present them in “a fair” way.

//

This television review was written for LJ Idol using the prompt: "Intersubjectivity"

Comments

( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
herwonderfulday
Oct. 20th, 2014 05:04 pm (UTC)
I don't get showtime but after reading the opening of this entry, I don't want to read anymore. I don't want to be spoiled because now I want to watch this... whenever that will be!
penpusher
Oct. 20th, 2014 05:59 pm (UTC)
The real beauty of this series is that it's not so much about "spoilers" and more about the other elements that make the story so engaging. Knowing what I have stated here really won't affect your experience of watching. And if you get Hulu Plus, you can watch it there!
(Anonymous)
Oct. 20th, 2014 09:33 pm (UTC)
It's on Hulu+!? I subscribe to that.

I think I'll give it a shot. (Unless it's web only. I'll never watch PLL or Hannibal ... I just hate watching stuff on my laptop.)
herwonderfulday
Oct. 20th, 2014 09:35 pm (UTC)
So. That anonymous comment was from me. I replied via the email notification and I guess my phone doesn't log me in.
penpusher
Oct. 21st, 2014 05:21 am (UTC)
Cool.

This is the sort of show that doesn't suffer too much if you see it on a laptop, I think? I haven't tried watching it on a laptop, but if you have a full blown HD screen, I guess everything is second best!
theun4givables
Oct. 21st, 2014 12:45 am (UTC)
I might have to check this out. The fact that memory is so unique and different to everyone else and using that as a storytelling device? Sign me up! That sounds like a neat way to incorporate unreliable narration and I would love to see it in action, so to speak. :)
penpusher
Oct. 21st, 2014 04:51 am (UTC)
I'm finding that, so far, I want to watch each episode at least twice, and I notice different things each time I watch it. It's really good to watch twice because then you know a bit about what's coming and can notice these other details and clues as they approach.

I want to say it's kind of the heir apparent to "Lost" if you watched that program, because it's a flashback series, it's set on an island, it's a small group of people constantly interacting with each other and it seems like it's leading to hell and there's no escape!
duffy61
Oct. 21st, 2014 07:32 pm (UTC)
This looks like something I would watch. Thanks for the heads up.
penpusher
Oct. 21st, 2014 08:06 pm (UTC)
Hey! I remember you! What's new?
duffy61
Oct. 22nd, 2014 06:41 am (UTC)
Lots.
Bought and sold the Coffeehouse I worked at. Got married. We have a dog and a cat. The cat is now a model for a line of socks.

I work for a car dealership now. Not what I want but it pays the bills and has good insurance which I'm spending as I want to avoid a second heart attack.

I am tired of the vicious sound bites and endless links that is facebook. Ello is weird and I haven't taken the time to learn the workings so I am back here. It is like starting over with anonymity so few people post here anymore.
penpusher
Oct. 22nd, 2014 01:25 pm (UTC)
That all sounds like stuff to share with the LJ group! I quit Facebook in July, 2012 and haven't looked back. And you're right. Now that blogging isn't "hot" any more, it's not bad to be here.

Welcome back!
witches
Oct. 22nd, 2014 12:42 pm (UTC)
makes me want to watch it now!
penpusher
Oct. 24th, 2014 08:42 pm (UTC)
I hope you give it a try. I find it pretty fascinating!
halfshellvenus
Oct. 22nd, 2014 09:27 pm (UTC)
Dang, now you're making me want to watch it!

I have a weakness for the 'unreliable narrator' effect, and in TV and movies, several or even _all_ of the characters may contribute to that!

It would be interesting to see Ruth Wilson as something other than the character I'm really familiar with: the clever, icy Alice on "Luther."
herwonderfulday
Oct. 23rd, 2014 05:52 am (UTC)
!

I love me some Alice. She's like the best thing in Luther.
halfshellvenus
Oct. 23rd, 2014 06:40 am (UTC)
:D I actually think that Luther is the best thing in Luther, though in visiting some of the LJ communities, it appears that most of the fans agree with you!

She was a terribly interesting character, and you keep hoping she'll return...
penpusher
Oct. 24th, 2014 08:59 pm (UTC)
It would be great if Ruth could appear on both; it's such a different acting chore for each of these roles! If "The Affair" takes off though, it would take a lot of time away... shooting in NYC and Long Island, even with an abbreviated 10 episode schedule, which we would presume would take 100 days to wrap (ten days per hour long drama episode is typical) would likely rearrange the shooting schedule for "Luther."

I like her as Alice and like her as Alison.
penpusher
Oct. 24th, 2014 08:50 pm (UTC)
I didn't know you had an Alice icon. *shiver*
herwonderfulday
Oct. 24th, 2014 09:18 pm (UTC)
I have 3.
penpusher
Oct. 24th, 2014 09:49 pm (UTC)
Maybe, after you watch "The Affair," you'll add an Alison icon or two, to balance it out.
herwonderfulday
Oct. 24th, 2014 09:53 pm (UTC)
If she's likable.

I searched for The Affair on Hulu+, but it's not on there. Just promotional shorts/teasers. Maybe it wont be on Hulu+ until it's done on SHO?
penpusher
Oct. 24th, 2014 10:37 pm (UTC)
Someone said that it was going to be on hulu plus. That was apparently unreliable info. You can watch the "edited for content" series premiere on the showtime website, or on youtube, but with your loathe for laptop viewing, even that seems unlikely.

Maybe this is a DVD/Blu-Ray binge watch the season program?
herwonderfulday
Oct. 24th, 2014 10:43 pm (UTC)
Probably. I do love a good binge watch.

Or maybe someone I know will give me their Showtime Go password or whatever their HBOGo equivalent is. It's alright.
penpusher
Oct. 24th, 2014 08:49 pm (UTC)
She is so not Alice here; she's vulnerable, hurt, charming and even gives genuine smiles occasionally!

I'm hooked on the program, if you couldn't tell! But you're right, the unreliable narrator is another fascinating element here, and that speaks directly to who these people are, and what they are telling, as opposed to what they are remembering.

rayaso
Oct. 22nd, 2014 10:06 pm (UTC)
Now I have another show to watch, and it's all your fault!
penpusher
Oct. 24th, 2014 08:50 pm (UTC)
I take that as high praise! Thank you.
alycewilson
Oct. 23rd, 2014 10:17 pm (UTC)
I'm going to have to see if I can watch this show on demand or on Hulu!
penpusher
Oct. 24th, 2014 11:27 pm (UTC)
Apparently it's not on hulu, or at least not yet. And I don't know if the On Demand works unless you're a Showtime subscriber? But I hope you get to see it!
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )

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