Exploring monogamy and sexual relationships, the new Netflix original series Wanderlust casts an interesting look at alternative ways of keeping middle-aged marriages alive.
Wanderlust, set in England, follows a long-time married couple Joy (Toni Collette) and Alan (Steven Mackintosh), who are finding it hard to have sex. Joy has recently gone through a traumatic traffic accident, which she has been using as an excuse to avoid sex, and Alan blames Joy for the lack of action, but also rejects her when she attempts to initiate. With this struggle in the bedroom, both Joy and Alan wander from one another, hence the show’s name, and sleep with other people.
Alan begins a relationship with a fellow English teacher at the school where he works, and Joy, a therapist, meets someone through therapy. Upon coming clean to each other, the two realize their extramarital affairs may actually help their marriage—and thus decide to begin an open and honest period of wandering, in which they use brief flings outside their marriage to rekindle their dying sex life. Trying to navigate through this strange set-up, the couple must deal with how their decisions affect their own family—which includes three mostly grown children—and the people they are seeing outside of their marriage.
Sex is obviously a big part of the show, as the characters grapple with passion and sexual desire—or sometimes the lack thereof. While Wanderlust, with no nudity, is demure in comparison to shows that feature long and lengthy nude scenes, like Game of Thrones, it still manages to make the audience extremely uncomfortable with its blatant portrayals of sexual relations. Perhaps because, unlike other shows, Wanderlust doesn’t dramatize sex and instead chooses to show its awkwardness, viewers feel the realness of the relations, and it’s harder to objectify the characters.
The uncomfortable moments do not just stop at sex scenes, however, as many of the characters aside from the main couple have an odd focus in their conversations about sex. Sometimes the exploration of sexual themes is just too much, and some blatantly odd moments just make viewers cringe and want desire to skip the conversation. For example, when the high-school-aged Tom (Joe Hurst), the youngest of the main couple’s children, accidentally walks in on his mother masturbating, he proceeds to immediately tell his best friend and friend group, which is both uncomfortable and inconceivable.
The dialogue, with many noticeable pauses and awkward moments, also feels choppy at times. The strange part, however, is that the viewer is not sure whether these pauses are intentionally trying to cause some discomfort, as the characters in the show also feel the awkwardness. This confusing feeling defines most of the show, as one really cannot distinguish whether its sheer discomfort is intentionally trying to make a statement, or just occurs as a result of bad timing and strange dialogue.
The show’s characters are likeable enough, and their experiment is truly intriguing, as it explores the possibilities of open marriages, and what they mean for monogamy. The show’s bold suggestion—that the bond of a marriage might be strengthened by open and honest extramarital affairs—is interesting to look at in monogamy-dominated world. The main couple is obviously affectionate toward each other, and their bond exceeds anything that the outside relationships produce.
This show is a little too mature for college-aged students, as the main couple’s marriage has probably lasted longer than they have been alive, and it will almost certainly be difficult for them to relate to the sheer disintegration of passion into mundane companionship that comes with that kind of stability that comes with time. For those interested in the dynamics of marriage and middle-aged exploration, however, this show is for you.
Featured Image by Wanderlust