TV series The Affair has some couples scared to watch it together

Ruth Wilson and Joshua Jackson in Season 1 of The Affair.
Ruth Wilson and Joshua Jackson in Season 1 of The Affair.PHOTO: SHOWTIME

Some couples are too scared to watch TV drama The Affair together and there are conflicting views about the show

The award-winning television drama The Affair - which explores the fallout from an extramarital affair - has been so divisive that many couples watch it separately, reveals its cast.
 

The series, which won this year's Golden Globe for Best TV Drama, charts the dalliance between a writer, Noah (played by Dominic West from the TV show The Wire), and a waitress, Alison (Ruth Wilson from the film The Lone Ranger), who are each married to someone else.

But it adopts an unusual approach by retelling the same tale from both Noah and Alison's points of view, which often contradict each other.

In Season 2, this is expanded to include the perspectives of Noah's wife Helen (ER's Maura Tierney) and Alison's husband Cole (Dawson Creek's Joshua Jackson).

At a press event in Los Angeles, Wilson, 33, tells Life she and the cast have heard "that people can't watch it with their wives or their husbands".

I'm shocked when friends of mine who are a couple tell me they watch the show together. I don't know why you would do that to yourself.

JOSHUA JACKSON

"Or they do it on the sly and then they lie to their spouse that they haven't watched it yet," says the star, who won the Golden Globe for Best Actress In A Drama for her portrayal of Alison.

Jackson, 37, says he understands the impulse to avoid discussing some of the situations that arise on the show, the first season of which will air in Singapore on Tuesdays starting tomorrow at 9.55pm (RTL CBS Entertainment HD, SingTel mio TV Channel 318 & StarHub TV Channel 509), with Season 2 debuting in December.

"I'm shocked when friends of mine who are a couple tell me they watch the show together. I don't know why you would do that to yourself," he says, laughing.

West, 45, says "it's instantly interesting when people talk about adultery and affairs" because it is such an emotive topic.

"Part of that is a lot of people feel very strongly about what a betrayal it is and how it's probably the worst thing that happens to some people. And I think a lot of other people just wish that they'd done it."

Tierney, 50, agrees, drawing comparisons between reactions to The Affair and the recent hacking of Ashley Madison, a matchmaking service for those who want to cheat on their partners.

"People get angry because it's probably very hurtful to be cheated on. And so when you see someone who's done that getting shamed, perhaps it's an easy response to go, 'Yeah, that happened to me and I want everyone punished for what happened to me."'

But the actors hope the drama prompts viewers to be less quick to judge in these situations.

By looking at how each character faces unique pressures and may remember the same events differently, Jackson believes it offers something more truthful than the traditional narrative surrounding adultery.

"Because everybody who has interacted with another human being has come up against that moment where you're both telling what you think is the same story and you remember it differently."

Taking each person's version into account, by comparison, feels more honest, he says.

"You also take the God's eye perspective of who's right and who's wrong out of it. Because inside of their individual stories, each one of those characters is right. They're not trying to lie, they're telling their own story."

Speaking to Life and other press in Los Angeles, he and his castmates were asked if people should be publicly shamed for infidelity, as was the case after the user data from the Ashley Madison website was leaked.

Jackson says it seems "perverse that we, as a culture, still want so badly to shame people", noting that this was also the reaction many viewers had to Noah and Alison's actions on the show.

Wilson thinks it is because "we hold marriage on such a pedestal and we kind of want it to work so much that anyone who goes outside of marriage is kind of scary for all of us - perhaps, because deep down, everyone wants to do it".

The actress believes there is also a double standard when it comes to how women who are unfaithful are treated compared to men who do the same.

"We're all socialised and constrained a bit by our gender definition - what the roles of men and women in society are. It's quite interesting that women can be called sluts when there's no real equivalent for a male."

The Affair tries to break that convention as well.

"Sarah (Treem), who created the show, was very aware that women are given a hard time. In affairs generally, the stigma and the responsibility are laid at the feet of the woman. That's part of why this whole series came about - to look at it from, internally, a male point of view and a female point of view, and the reasons Noah and Alison stepped outside of their marriage.

"That's the whole concept of the show - it's trying to turn those stigmas on their head a bit."

By putting the audience in the shoes of each character, the story also hopes to make viewers question their initial prejudices.

Says Jackson: "It's trying to put the audience members on the horns of the dilemma, rather than choosing for you what the morality is behind these two perspectives.

"And, hopefully, it switches. I think over the course of that first season, your allegiance shifts between the two perspectives. And the one that feels more native or comfortable to you, I think, is not the one you start with. It becomes more complex by the end of the first season."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2015, with the headline 'Infidelity drama a divisive affair'. Print Edition | Subscribe