Don't judge a show by its title. "The Affair," which premieres on Showtime on Oct. 19, both is and isn't about infidelity.
"We really do think of the show as a show about marriage, actually, more than a show about an affair," said co-creator Sarah Treem on Friday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Beverly Hills. " I think that the term 'affair' will ultimately prove to be somewhat ironic if you keep watching the show.
Set in Montauk, N.Y., on the eastern tip of Long Island, the series follows the adulterous relationship between Noah (Dominic West), a writer and father of four, and Alison (Ruth Wilson), a waitress. But it also delves into their complicated marriages to their respective spouses Helen (Maura Tierney) and Cole (Joshua Jackson).
In a postmodern wrinkle, the affair is depicted in flashback from both Alison's and Noah's perspectives, with the gulf between his and her versions of events at times startlingly vast.
The idea behind the show's "Rashomon"-like structure, Treem explained, was that "storytelling in general is driven by perspective, and there are two sides at least, to every story." This is especially true in romantic relationships, especially affairs, because "you don’t even have access to what your lover is experiencing when you’re not around. There’s this whole other world that they inhabit that you never get to see."
So which version is "correct"?
Well, neither, said Treem. "My feeling is that both sides are right, that the objective truth, if it exists, is something that the viewer will decide for themselves."
As executive producer Jeffrey Reiner pointed out, the subject matter of "The Affair" proved relatable for many of those involved, creatively. "A lot of us didn’t rob banks or we didn’t kill anybody," he said of the show's writing staff. "Everybody knows about marriage."
For Treem, the timing of "The Affair" proved interesting: She got married just a few weeks ago, an event that occasioned a thoughtful note from Showtime Chief Executive David Nevins.
"I understand that you write in order to expunge the demons so you don’t have to act on them," Treem said, paraphrasing Nevins. "And I was like, 'That’s true.' That’s absolutely true of, I think, all writers."
For West, who most recently starred as Richard Burton in "Burton and Taylor," which chronicled the stormy relationship between Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and as a philandering newsman in "The Hour," the role in some ways was not exactly a stretch.
"I’m trying to think if I’ve ever not played an adulterer," he joked.
"The Affair" wasn't exactly a hard sell for West.
"As I was sitting in London with all my kids throwing things at me as the rain poured down, and they said, 'Would you be interested in doing a show set in Montauk where you have an affair with a girl on the beach?' It’s what first sort of piqued my interest."
Still, he conceded, "It is an interesting one, that, you know, telling your wife, 'I’m off to America to make a show called ‘The Affair.' "
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