Culture

Showtime's 'The Affair' Is the Best Infidelity Deterrence on TV

I’m usually willing to give new premium cable series a shot — the writing, acting and storylines on HBO, Showtime, etc., are so superior that I haven’t wasted time on broadcast network shows in a long time. But I was a bit hesitant when Showtime offered up season one of The Affair, as I avoid the Lifetime network, soap operas and other chick TV like the plague. I tried it because the promos teased a crime storyline wrapped within the relationship drama.

It’s good to know I wasn’t the only one who got hooked during the first season. The Affair won the Golden Globe for Best Television Series – Drama earlier this year, an honor previously won by standards such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and Best Actress for Ruth Wilson.

In the first season, teacher Noah (Dominic West) and waitress Alison (Wilson) meet on Noah’s family vacation to her home of Montauk, New York. He’s the picture of a perfect family, living in NYC with his loving wife Helen (Maura Tierney), four kids, annoying rich in-laws and one published novel under his belt. Alison has a devoted husband, Cole (Joshua Jackson), but has been torn apart by the death of their child in an accident.

The writers’ use of different points of view — Noah’s for one half of the episode, Alison’s for the other — made for a fascinating, realistic exploration of memory bias as their affair begins and progresses. He remembers her wearing something racier than she remembers, he remembers her being more come-hither while she remembers being more reticent, mundane and critical details alike change. One doesn’t come across as more guilty than the other, though — another testament to the skilled writing. Some of the narrative comes across an interrogation table, and we’re reminded that it’s a homicide detective piecing together the affair. In the second season, the writers are adding the points of view of the cheated-on spouses, Helen and Cole.

At the end of the first season, Noah and Alison — after leaving a path of destruction in their wake — gave the impression of being happily cocooned together in an NYC apartment until the cops come knocking. The second season promises to make clear that there is no neat, happy ending to the affair, emphasizing that a relationship beginning with deceit naturally has a pretty big trust deficit along with other holes that may not ever be patched.

For all of the promise-keeping programs out there that encourage partners to stay true to the sanctity of marriage vows, The Affair is probably one of the most powerful tools out there to discourage infidelity. The characters all discover their worst, darkest sides, from the web of lies to Alison needlessly pouring Helen’s expensive shampoo down the drain after she’s just been in Noah’s marital bed while the wife was out of town. The families are shredded, with Noah’s teenage daughter being even more issue-laden than the infamously annoying Dana on Homeland. The passion of the affair has sexiness sapped away by the details of meeting in stealth and trying to cover up the evidence. It’s messy and destructive, even without the mysterious death subplot slowly unfolding.

Season 2 of The Affair premieres this Sunday on Showtime; the first episode of the new season is currently available on Showtime on Demand.