Showtime’s new high-concept drama “The Affair” is an intriguing, aesthetically pleasing and structurally innovative show. The two lead performances from British actors Dominic West — known for his role as rugged detective Jimmy McNulty on HBO’s “The Wire” — and Ruth Wilson are mesmerizing, as is most of the show.
The show, from noted Israeli producer Hagai Levi, immediately attracted attention for its unusual premise. While soapy shows full of lurid premises and troubled marriages are all over TV, they don’t tell their stories in the way that “The Affair” does. Each episode is split into two halves: one depicting the affair between Wilson and West’s characters, each married, from the perspective of Noah (West) and another showing it from Alison’s (Wilson) side. Each half shows it through their lens, giving the viewer a split perspective on who the instigator in the affair is. The audience is not told who to believe or given definitive answers, although visual and expositional clues are given out.
Even more mysterious are the interrogation scenes that the show keeps coming back to. Both Noah and Alison are shown in scenes, seemingly after the affair, being interrogated by cops about some kind of related, ominous incident.
The whole thing might be a bit pulpy if it wasn’t so well-executed. Wilson and West both manage to make their characters sympathetic and give the audience the notion that truly, either one could be the victim or the aggressor in the drama.
The seaside setting of the show lends it another intriguing element. It’s eye-catching, and it gives “The Affair” a transient quality.
One minor element of the plot that allows the show to pursue a sort of “meta” commentary on writing is Noah’s occupation as a writer. He’s said to be taking a summer vacation with his family to Montauk, an exceedingly wealthy part of Long Island, on which he meets Alison, in order to write his next book. In the third episode, he even tells his agent that he’s writing the book about an affair (not telling him, of course, that the affair in question is, in fact, his) — and that the male protagonist in the book will kill the girl he’s having an affair with.
While the flash-forwards to the interrogation room suggest that one of the two leads is not going to be murdered, the viewer, nevertheless, is left to question this potentially terrifying twist.
I should also note some of the other performances on the show. Maura Tierney, of the criminally-underrated ’90s sitcom “NewsRadio,” does a fine job as Noah’s wife, Helen. And seeing John Doman face off with West again (he portrayed West’s stuck-up careerist cop boss on “The Wire”) as his father-in-law is great fun.
Overall, the first three episodes of “The Affair” have shown that it will be appointment television. While there’s almost too much quality TV on today, it’s further proof of why premium cable is so heralded.
“The Affair” airs at 10 p.m. Sundays on Showtime.
Correction: A prior version of this review stated that Montauk is an island. In fact, it is an area located on the south shore of Long Island, N.Y.