The Affair

Photograph: Sky
Rating 8.1
Streamers Now, Sky
Seasons 5
Episodes 53 x 60 mins

This gorgeous looking married life drama stars Dominic West. We know, we know, the irony of him starring in a show called The Affair, then getting up to extra-marital shenanigans so publicly, then leaving that note on his fence post… But put your cringing to one side, and take a look at this properly sumptuous drama.

Adultery does just make for good TV, doesn’t it? We gawped as Carrie cheated on Aiden in Sex and the City, it’s basically the whole starting premise of Ozark, and we got annoyed at Reese Witherspoon’s character in Big Little Lies when she betrays her lovely husband, Ed. They just add that big dollop of drama that we all want and need. So, it makes perfect sense to make a whole show about infidelity, and why over complicate the title? This is exactly what it says on the tin: The Affair.  

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In season one we meet Noah, a teacher turned novelist who is happily married to Helen, with whom he shares four kids. Needing a break from their massive, gorgeous New York house funded by Noah’s rich dad, the family flock to Long Island. So off they go, ready for a nice relaxing summer. But then there’s a bump in the road, and that bump is a waitress. Noah spots lovely Alison (Ruth Wilson), who’s working as a waitress in a café, and it turns out she’s in a bit of a pickle in her own marriage, her and her husband trying to cling onto their relationship after they lost their son aged just four-years-old.

Ruth Wilson also stars in the family friendly feast, His Dark Materials

So these two are well placed to mess up each other’s lives, aren’t they? And they do just that. Each episode is split in half, with the first following Noah’s side of the story, before flipping to see Ali’s perspective. Then, in season two, we also get to look through the eyes of their partners, as the four of them journey further and further towards destruction – and a character’s death. Season three then follows on through more ramifications of Noah and Alison’s misdeeds, with the fourth and fifth seasons showing how these spiral out of control.

You’ve probably noticed we’ve been pretty vague on plot details there, but that’s because the less we tell you, the better. Despite the rather clichéd premise of adultery, so much goes on in this show, with side plots unfurling all the time. We unpick the psychology of characters, trying to reason with their motivations and learn about their lies. And trust us, before you know it, you’ll be as tangled up in The Affair as Noah and Ali are – this will definitely have you hooked. Admittedly, the later seasons aren’t quite as good as the first couple, but we imagine you’ll still find yourself watching them anyway.

The Guardian’s Sam Wollaston praises both West and Wilson for their “ace performances,” saying the show gets “less and less obvious and more and more interesting as it goes along. Not just another guy, straying from his vows with a younger woman, but something more complex, and murky, about the deceptions and lies and half-truths you get when something like this happens.” In The Telegraph, Phil Harrison agrees, calling this a “supremely grown-up drama which tackles adult themes in a proudly demanding way,” also praising the leads’ “pitch-perfect performances.” And Vulture’s Jen Chaney calls it an “equal parts maddening and fascinating exercise in multi-perspective storytelling.”

First shown May 2015. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.

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