It’s not a moment too soon for a show about polyamory, right? Since The New York Times Style section ran an article on the jealousy-defying relationship practice last October, one open-minded production house from the hills of Seattle developed a lighthearted drama that showcases the lifestyle on the small screen.
Family is a bi-weekly series centered around the triad of Gemma (Amber Rack) and her two live-in partners, Stuart (Eric Smiley) and Ben (Ernie Joseph). Created (and written, directed and edited) by a Seattle actress named Terisa Greenan, Family attempts, albeit clunkily, to normalize what Minx defines as “multiple, long-term, loving, committed relationships, with the full knowledge and consent of all parties involved.” Family tries to display polyamory as a regular part of some people’s lives instead of an inconceivable relationship status.
The show apparently reflects Greenan’s own triad: her partner Larry has a part and her other partner Scott PAs. And while the subject matter may be based on true events, all things considered, Family turns out not to be the best PR for the cause, unless Greenan is trying to rally supporters by showing the polyamory lifestyle comes pretty close to skeptics’ expectations.
After a sweet intro ditty circa early ’90s network TV, the series kicks off with Gemma getting dropped off at home by her new boyfriend Jim, as her neighbor glares knowingly and disapprovingly. Gemma wants both to be popular with the neighbors and to be open about her alternative lifestyle choice. Stuart tries to convince her to stop putting up a front. Gemma accuses him of being jealous, to which he informs her that he’s got three girlfriends, not including her, so he’s doing just fine, thanks.
The triad attends a polyamorous mixer (which seem to be quite common) in the second installment to further open their horizons, or perhaps find a little like-minded support. There they meet a boundary-challenged set of techie couples (all but one of the attendees works for Microsoft – “I’ve only been working there for 10 years,” notes one to a chorus of guffaws) led by a boundary-challenged woman who cozies up to Gemma at the refreshments table.
By episode 3 (fyi, there’s nudity), we discover that Gemma’s not coming clean about new boyfriend Jim: he’s married with kids, but hasn’t brought his wife up to speed yet. As their tongue-biting private instructor looks on, Jim whines to his ponytailed Pilates partner, “Gemma’s all into this total honesty thing – that’s apparently what they do.” Silly Jim: polyamorous relationships are for fully consensual adults.
As big Ben, the most steady of the triad, attempts to caution Gemma about getting in over her head, she plays down his need for concern with an “I know what I’m doing” response that sounds both like a precocious teenager and an unsteady partner. And here we uniamorous witness some relationship familiarity. As two-thirds of the triad cuddle up on the couch on New Year’s Eve, Stuart is out partying and Gemma worries about him. The mood shows a mix of the normal and something new.
This is where Greenan hits an appropriate note of sympathy, but such warm earnestness does not a juicy narrative make. Perhaps the series will settle down and do less to weaken the polyamorous cause. Or maybe it’s such a juicy target that even one of its own can’t resist. Or maybe it’s meant to show that polyamorus relationships are just like any other ones. Hard.