Showtime's The Affair is the definition of a guilty pleasure, for women in particular, so much so that I'm almost embarrassed that I became so hooked on it. But hooked I was, and I'm already counting down the days until next season, although I'm fully willing to admit that this soapy, sexy, visual representation of a romance novel is by no means highbrow television (even if it tries as hard as it can to present itself that way).
The show takes a setup obviously inspired by True Detective, as it recounts a story from the perspectives of two people being interrogated by a detective looking into a murder case. The two in question are Noah (played by The Wire's Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson), and the series harkens back to their lives about four years earlier, when they met and began the tawdry affair of the title. In every episode, half the runtime is told from Noah's point of view, and the other half from Alison's, which leads to some really interesting directorial choices, as we see how Noah first saw Alison in his own mind (she was wearing a tight, short skirt) and how she appeared in her's (wearing a long, loose-fitting dress). Both were married, not really unhappily, but neither could resist the other as they exchanged longing glances across the beach and dialogue laced with sexual desire.
Yeah, it even sounds like trashy chick lit, doesn't it? But what can I say? Sometimes this soap opera stuff really works, especially when it's presented with great actors and a purely addictive, steamy quality that keeps you waiting to see how Noah and Alison are going to sneak in their next finger-bang right next to the restaurant where Alison's husband Cole (Joshua Jackson) waits for her. It may be kind of sleazy to be rooting for these two people to brazenly cheat on their more or less innocent spouses, but that's the kind of thrill The Affair presents week after week- there's just something irresistible about it. Plus, the actors pull it off really well, as West and especially Wilson are entirely affecting in their performances- he's appealing with a character that could very easily be a complete cliche (a well off married guy with four bratty kids and a shallow wife), while she has a built in sympathy factor going for her since losing her child a year earlier. And it's always funny and telling the way both come off in their respective POV accounts- he's always a little more considerate and heroic in her's, she's always aggressive and overtly sexual in his.
There's an intimate feel to the characters on the show, as it explores the emotional lives of Noah, Alison, their respective families, and how they drifted toward each other. The pacing is a tad slow, but it never feels tedious, as the show moves at a rate that's never less than entirely absorbing, even if the murder being investigated is absolutely the least interesting part of this premise (at least until the finale, which finally made some progress on that front in the classic cliffhanger 'til next season). I don't know how long creator Sarah Treem can keep this going (supposedly there's at least a three year plan in place), but I'm on board with it a hundred percent. Bring on the sudsiness- I've got the popcorn ready.