October 4, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “The Affair”


THE AFFAIR:  Sunday 10PM on Showtime

THE AFFAIR was one of last year’s most confounding shows.  It was at once carefully observed and gimmicky, precise and willfully vague, compulsively watchable and annoying. The problem wasn’t so much the show’s format of telling its overlapping events repeatedly, from the often conflicting perspectives of adulterous Noah (Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson), although that sometimes got tiresome (when the narrative of an episode’s first half wasn’t gripping, you knew you’d have to watch some of it all over again half an hour later), and the rules were never quite clear, as at times the different versions were merely of emphasis, while in other cases they insisted on diametrically opposed recollections of basic facts.

For the most part, The Affair told its core story beautifully, about the gradual summer romance between Noah and Alison, and the way it destroyed their respective marriages to Helen (Maura Tierney) and Cole (Joshua Jackson), with a particularly close eye on differences in class and wealth that American TV often glosses over.  But when it dragged in melodrama about drug-running in the Hamptons, it lost its footing.  And its flash-forward technique, with glimpses of a future where Noah and Alison, now together, were being investigated in connection with a murder we still know very little about (and for which Noah was arrested at season’s end), felt like a desperate grasp for a genre hook.

The season 2 premiere, written by series co-creator/showrunner Sarah Treem and directed by Jeffrey Reiner (who’s been behind the camera on more than half the episodes so far), shakes up the format a bit by giving us its events from Helen’s perspective as well as Noah’s.  (Alison is a supporting player in the hour, but it’s known that we’ll be getting Cole’s version of her stories during this season as well.)  The episode is The Affair at its best, putting its flawed character under dual microscopes.

The things that happen during the hour aren’t sensationally dramatic.  Noah has a meeting with his agent about his upcoming novel, goes to his old house to clear out his belongings (and confronts his soon-to-be ex-mother-in-law Margaret, pictured as a gorgon in both his and Helen’s versions and played superbly by Kathleen Chalfant), and has a mediation session with Helen, which is the major overlapping sequence of the episode.  For her part, we learn that Helen is sleeping with an old college friend, now a successful hotel owner, who always had a crush on her, but for whom she feels no all-consuming love, and we watch her attempts to navigate the difficult channels of communication with her distraught kids.

Each of these moments is captured with convincing emotional honesty, and an advantage of the newly widened format is that we get more of Tierney, a wonderful actress who more than deserves her showcase.  Even more than West, who’s also excellent, Tierney conveys the distinct character beats of the two Helens we see, and manages to be completely believable in both aspects.  Treem’s dialogue is intelligent and natural, and Reiner makes great use of the actual New York locations, and paces the sometimes lengthy, dialogue-laden scenes very well.

Season 1 of The Affair also got off to a great start, and then became more uneven as the season went on, so tonight’s strong opener doesn’t guarantee an unblemished run of episodes.  But after just having watched Showtime’s Masters of Sex flounder through its third stanza, it’s a relief to see that so far, the changes in The Affair appear only to be for the better.  Right now, while its ratings have been OK at best, even with Homeland as its lead-in, The Affair is the network’s strongest quality play.


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."