With so many quality shows airing on television these days, it would be impossible to keep up with them without the use of DVRs. Mine already is jammed, and the new TV season is still practically in its infancy. And if you’re a TV junkie like me, one of the problems is prioritizing the shows by which ones to watch first while others pile up in the DVR queue. Just when I thought I had everything in order, I saw a new show last weekend that made me rearrange everything to put it at the very top of the list.
“The Affair” is Showtime’s latest contribution to outstanding TV series, and although only one episode has aired, I am totally hooked and eagerly anticipating the second episode. In fact the pilot for this series was so good that it ranks right up there with “True Detective,” and that’s saying something.
Noah Solloway (Dominic West) is a public school teacher in Brooklyn, and he also is a modestly successful author who has written one book and received an advance for a second one. He’s married to Helen (Maura Tierney), and they have four children: Whitney (Julia Goldani Telles), Martin (Jake Siciliano), Trevor (Jadon Sand), and Stacey (Leya Catlett). As the story begins, Noah and his family are packing for a trip to his father-in-law’s (Bruce Butler played by John Doman) palatial estate in picturesque Montauk at the end of Long Island.
Shortly before arriving at their destination, the Solloways stop at a small restaurant for lunch, and this is where Noah first meets Alison Lockhart (Ruth Wilson), who is their waitress. From the moment they lay eyes on each other, the attraction between the two of them is obvious, but after Noah and his family leave the restaurant, it seems unlikely that they’ll ever cross paths again.
When Noah and his family get to Bruce’s mansion, it doesn’t take us long to realize that the two men really don’t like each other. Apparently Bruce is a successful author and doesn’t have much respect for his son-in-law’s writing ability, and we also get a hint that their dislike for each other may go deeper than that.
Later that night Noah has trouble sleeping and decides to take a walk on the beach. In the distance he sees a bonfire with some people sitting around it and thinks he’ll check it out, but before he reaches the fire, he encounters a lone figure sitting on the beach. Any guesses? Of course it’s Allison, the waitress he met only a few hours ago. What ensues is an interesting segment about which I will say no more.
The chance meeting on the beach marks the halfway point of the first episode, and now we switch to Allison’s viewpoint and watch the story from the time Noah enters the restaurant the way she saw the events occur. Presenting the same story from conflicting points of view is known as the Rashomon effect, named after Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film “Rashomon,” which presented the same crime from four differing viewpoints. The technique is fascinating and makes any story told this way particularly riveting.
Another key player in the drama is Allison’s husband, Cole Lockhart (Joshua Logan), who has his own issues and who is struggling to keep the marriage together. Seeing the relationship between Allison and Cole from Noah’s viewpoint as opposed to Allison’s is intriguing to say the least. In an online interview Denise Martin asked if the Rashomon technique made him feel as if he were playing two parts.
“In a way, yeah, I do. Two different perspectives allow you to play, at the very least, two extremes of your character. There’s a scene where I meet Ruth Wilson’s character, Allison, and she sees me as sort of a swaggering, confident lothario, and my character remembers being timid and rather passive. I get to play both. The tendency is to get locked into a role. You underestimate the range that every one of us has in our character. The way this show is written explores that range.”
In addition to the Rashomon technique and the imminent relationship between Noah and Allison what makes “The Affair” so intriguing is the intermittent presence of a detective who is quizzing the two of them about a mysterious crime. Naturally he receives two different perspectives from the same questions.
As you would expect from West and Wilson, the acting in the show is superb. Of course these two are no strangers to TV series because he played Det. James “Jimmy” McNulty in “The Wire,” and she was Alice Morgan, the wacko serial killer in “Luther.” Even though nothing serious happens between Noah and Allison in the first episode, the sexual tension between the two of them is electric. On the official website for the series, both actors revealed something about their characters.
“There’s something about Noah,” Wilson said. “He’s a family man. He’s confident about who he is. There’s an escapism that he represents that she’s attracted to. It’s a very interesting piece of material. That’s one of the reasons why I took it. There’s a huge moral stigma against affairs, and what was interesting about this part was challenging that stigma.”
“She’s (Allsion) not perfect,” West said. “In fact she’s deeply damaged, but that appeals to something in him. That’s something she wants to protect. Noah is a public school teacher and a writer from Brooklyn. He’s a happily married guy with four kids, and he goes out to Montauk, and he starts an affair with a girl he meets out there. And he ruins his life for her. When two honest, good people can’t control their feelings for each other, it says a lot about the consequences of desire.”
“The Affair” is as good as television gets. In fact, it has the look and feel of a big-screen production. When you take two superb actors, give them an outstanding script filled with lust, tension, and suspense, and set the story against the spectacular backdrop of Montauk, how can you miss? The answer is that you don’t, and neither does this superb series, which earns the final score of an unequivocal 10. I’m going to be spending my next nine Sunday evenings at Montauk, and so should you.