Showtime Continues to Push Sexual Boundaries on ‘The Affair’

The plot of Showtime’s upcoming drama The Affair may seem obvious given the straightforward title, but the new trailer for the show proves the story is a little more complicated than you may think. The show does follow two married people, teacher Noah (Dominic West) and waitress Alison (Ruth Wilson), as they meet and eventually develop a forbidden romantic relationship. But the series, debuting October 19, examines the affair from both of their perspectives, which — as is always the case — differ greatly at some points.

The teaser gives viewers just a glimpse at their relationship, with the two of them meeting at the Montauk, New York restaurant where Alison waitresses. As the two run into each other more and more frequently, the attraction between the two of them becomes more evident. Things get increasingly heated until Noah finds himself sneaking out of his house at night to meet Allison for secret rendezvous on the beach. In the trailer, both characters are telling their side of the story to a detective, who’s investigating an apparent accident, although it’s unclear exactly what that accident is.

While TV shows centering on affairs seem to be a dime a dozen these days, the dual perspective puts a unique twist in this particular series. “Storytelling in general is driven by perspective, and there are two sides at least, to every story,” co-creator Sarah Treem explained during the Television Critics Association tour, according to the LA Times. “My feeling is that both sides are right, that the objective truth, if it exists, is something that the viewer will decide for themselves.”

But producers also insist the show is just as much about marriage as it is about infidelity. As the LA Times reports, executive producer Jeffrey Reiner explained the universal theme this way: “A lot of us didn’t rob banks or we didn’t kill anybody. Everybody knows about marriage.”

Sex and how adults approach it seems to be a growing theme among many of Showtime’s recent shows. The Affair trailer comes on the heels of the second season of Masters of Sex (another explicitly titled show), the network’s historical drama about the sex researchers Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson. Even its shows that aren’t directly revolved around sex pick on the subject, albeit more subtly. Shameless follows the Gallagher family both in life and in love, while the network’s political thriller Homeland became increasingly focused on the relationship between its two leading characters, Carrie and the now-deceased Brody, in recent seasons, with their baby appearing in the upcoming season four.

That’s not to say that Showtime is solely focused on sex or that it’s the only one playing it up. That’s far from the case. Broadcast TV networks show no shortage of infidelity and passionate flings in their series either, as evidenced in ABC’s Scandal and Nashville or CBS’ The Good Wife. But Showtime seems to have found a successful formula for using sex as a kickoff point to a deeper exploration of human experiences and emotions. That could be partly due to the fact that it has more freedom to experiment when approaching the subject.

“I think it’s really interesting that we can get into that certain side of humanity and human relationships with a depth that’s hard to do in broadcast media, because there’s such squeamishness about sex,” Showtime Networks president, David Nevins said during the TCA summer press tour, according to Multi Channel.

Perhaps that flexibility will give The Affair an advantage over other failed infidelity-based TV shows, like ABC’s Betrayal, which was officially canceled back in May after only one season. Either way, it seems clear that viewers can expect Showtime to continue pushing the envelope and going outside the lines when it comes to sexual content.

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