Now that Homeland is back in full swing on Showtime, I’ve situated myself in front of my TV on Sunday night to watch the only show I really have time for. Watching a show on Showtime is great, it’s a premium channel like HBO—meaning that shows air with no commercial, except in between programming.
Once tonight’s episode of Homeland concluded, they quickly aired a TV spot for their next “critically acclaimed” TV series called The Affair. Yes, I know what you’re probably thinking, it does sounds like a soap opera that would air on CBS(1).
And to be honest, the teaser above doesn’t really sell it. I really enjoyed Dominic West in perhaps the greatest TV series of all time in The Wire—so I figured to myself I would watch the first ten minutes to see how it pans out. Needless to say, I ended up watching the entire premiere. But it wasn’t without it’s faults.
The show draws in you with the narration that you hear in the teaser. Noah Solloman (Dominic West) prepares to take his family out to Long Island to live at their Grandparents for the summer, when he goes inside to look for his son. We hear narration off screen with a criminal investigator asking Noah questions. “What’s your relationship with your wife like?” “When did this all begin?” We don’t know what crime has been committed, or who exactly was involved besides Noah and Alison (whom he has the affair with). [Quick side note next to the paragraph that contains a spoiler, click on the “1" to read it.]
I won’t go full fledged recap here, but The Affair’s episodic structure is unique. As is the case with any officer in an investigation, you know that there’s two sides to every story that happened. For the first thirty minutes, we see the story unfold from Noah’s point of view. For the last half of the hour, we see the exact same story unfold from Alison’s point of view. And we quickly realize that there are stark differences in the story that is presented. It leaves you to over contextualize everything that is happening on the screen in order to find out the truth. From Noah’s point of view—Alison is the person who is clearly flirting and trying to instigate a romantic fling—while you guessed it, the opposite was the case from Alison’s perspective.
The viewer is then put into a position of “what is the truth?” It’s a familiar situation that puts us where the investigator is sitting. We’ve seen both sides of the story, and we have to look through the story on each side to find a common ground or greater truth. It’s still too early to know if there’s anything real that’s been factually presented, but obviously we’ll find out more over the next few weeks—and then I suspect that clues will pop up in the episode underneath our nose.
When it’s all said and done, I do have a few issues with the pilot: I don’t know if it did a good enough of job of actually progressing the story. I mentioned that the show does pull you in with the officer investigating the both of them, yet it never really takes off from there. If you’ve watched the teaser from above, you actually really don’t gain too much more plot information from the actual premiere. In fact, I felt that the premiere spent a little too much time focusing on it’s unique episode structure and revealing background information on each character. What gets cluttered and lost in the middle is actual story movement.
In the first episode of Breaking Bad, we see Walter White go from getting diagnosed with cancer to cooking meth and a seemingly inevitable showdown with police at the end of the episode. In the premiere of Homeland, a prisoner of war returns from Afghanistan and Carrie Mathison deems him to be turned by the Al-Qaeda to fight against the United States. In The Affair’s premiere episode… we don’t even see an affair begin. Compared with other television show premieres, The Affair struggles to get past midfield while other shows roar downfield for a touchdown(3).
I couldn’t help that the lack of story progression in the first hour made it actually seem bogged down and slow, therefore, I could see people getting a little bored.
The Affair presents a unique situation and episodic structure that will initially pull you in. Combined with the interesting character backgrounds and setting, a potentially good seed has been planted. Unfortunately that seed doesn’t even begin to grow. I’m curious to see how exactly this story will move along—because if it goes at the pace of the Pilot then this show will never blossom.