October 20, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “The Affair”


THE AFFAIR:  Sunday 10PM on Showtime

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY, we look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on THE AFFAIR:  Several years from now, Noah (Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson) sit in police interrogation rooms and separately recount, in connection with a crime we don’t yet know about, the story of their relationship in ways that shade the events differently and sometimes outright contradict each other.  When they met, one summer in the Hamptons, he was a schoolteacher and recent novelist, happily if restlessly married to Helen (Maura Tierney)–and living largely on her family’s money–with four children.  Alison was working as a waitress, her marriage to Cole (Joshua Jackson) still troubled several years after they suffered the loss of their young son.

Episode 2:  We received our first clues regarding the police investigation in the course of The Affair‘s second hour:  a man killed in a hit and run that may have been an accident but is presumptively murder.  The obvious victim would be Cole, but there’s much more story to elapse before we’re likely to find out for sure.  The bulk of the hour, written by series co-creator Sarah Treem and directed by Jeffrey Reiner, followed the pattern of the pilot, telling the story of the same day first from Noah’s viewpoint and then from Alison’s.  This was the day they repeatedly re-encountered one another after the events of the pilot, first at a local farmers market and then when she waitressed at a party thrown by Noah’s in-laws.  The two of them, in both their versions, ended up on the family’s private beach and kissing, although once again their recollections of the moments that led there differed.

As before, Noah’s side of the story was glossier than Alison’s, featuring her as always alluring and flirtatious in his presence, whereas her memory saw things as grittier and less conventionally romantic.  One interesting note was that in both of their stories, Helen came off as considerably more insufferable than she’d been in the pilot, belittling Noah’s uncommercial first novel when her daddy was trying to set Noah up with his big-time agent, and treating Alison like, well, the hired help at the party.  If the show continues down that path, it’ll be a bit disappointing, since one of the aspects of the pilot that was pleasingly complex was that it didn’t seem to offer Noah the excuse for his adultery that his wife was making him miserable.  One also hopes that we won’t be seeing too much of Noah’s in-laws, who are somewhat cliched rich boors.

Otherwise, The Affair remained absorbing and beautifully performed by West and Wilson, filled with well-observed details, especially in Alison’s story.  It may ultimately become a drawback that the show’s structure means that we get essentially a half-hour of plot for each hour of episode, because Alison’s half repeats, from a different angle, events we’ve already seen.  Of course, there are portions of each protagonist’s tale unique to them (Noah’s children, Alison’s in-laws), but so far they’re not changing our view of the sections that overlap.  With only two hours elapsed, though, the series may well intend variations on its form as it moves forward.

The Affair‘s reception last week was a prime example of the new ways television is consumed–and of the difference between pay-TV and advertiser-supported networks.  Viewers who watch a show on NBC more than 3 days after it airs, or even within that time if they fast-forward through commercials, might as well not exist, but Showtime truly doesn’t care whether viewers watch a show on its first airing, a week later, and on TV, VOD or online.  All of those require payment of the same subscription fee, so they have the same value.  Therefore The Affair‘s launch could fairly be considered a success, because although just about 500,000 people watched the show in its initial airing on Sunday night, a total of 2.5 million ended up seeing it on one platform or another.  If the series can remain near that level–and it deserves to–its mysterious back-story will continue to fall into place for some time to come.


PILOT + 1:  An Experiment in Form Grounded in Character


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."