The view of Long Island from the car window passes by in a blur -- one of those time-lapse sequences that can seem to compress the whole world down into a few snapshots that flash by in seconds. This particular scene arrives quickly in "The Affair" -- Showtime's new 10-parter (premiering Sunday night at 10) shot entirely here -- and is gone just as quickly. The Solloway family is in this car, not a word spoken among them, as deep summer greens and blues slip by. From their home in Brooklyn, they are on their way to a vacation place -- destination unknown. As they zip by Bridgehampton, then Amagansett, they barely take a glance.
The car then approaches the Hither Hills West Overlook on Old Montauk Highway. It's at that moment "The Affair" truly begins, as the Solloways' home life recedes behind them, and an unknown future lies before them, somewhere just beyond that beguiling hollow between Napeague Bay and the Atlantic.
Montauk: It's as big a star in "The Affair" as the stars, who include Dominic West, as Noah Solloway; Maura Tierney, as his wife, Helen; and Ruth Wilson, as Alison Lockhart, the woman with whom Noah conducts an affair. Sarah Treem, the 34-year-old co- creator, explained in a recent phone interview from L.A. that Montauk "is where a lot of my childhood was spent" and is "a place that really looms large for me in my memory. When we [she and production partner Hagai Levi] came up with the series idea, we just kept saying it was a memory play. It's a very evocative place for me."
What Montauk evokes for you and for Treem may be two separate things, but on-screen in "The Affair" it's unmistakable. The rolling glacial hills are covered with bluestem, switch grass, Indiangrass, as they have been for eons. The towering phragmites and beach grass bend in the wind. A restless ocean can be heard constantly in the background, like the soothing echo of a seashell placed against the ear.
A VISCERAL EXPERIENCE
The Lobster Roll -- the landmark diner on Montauk Highway just across from Napeague Harbor -- is the setting for another early scene, as are shots from around Fort Pond and Lake Montauk. The lighthouse is as well, Deep Hollow Ranch and many other places both here and in the Hamptons.
The appeal for TV producers is obvious. "It's the smell," says Andrew Lenchewski, showrunner of "Royal Pains," shot mostly on Long Island over six seasons. "If you blindfold me and put me in the Hamptons, I could tell you I'm there. There is literally a visceral experience to being in the Hamptons that you just know it when you feel it. It's so hard to re-create, and if there were someone who really knew what it was, they'd find a way to manufacture it on a back lot in Burbank."
"The Affair" is about a man just short of middle age, where all the sharp edges that have defined his life to that point are starting to dull. Noah Solloway, a high school teacher and aspiring novelist with one well-received book already behind him, also has four young kids, including two teens. Alison, a waitress at the Lobster Roll, serves the family when they stop for lunch. Viewers soon learn a little more about her, notably that she's in an abusive relationship with Cole (Joshua Jackson).
This is where things get tricky in "The Affair." The series, in fact, is not set in present time, but is a recollection told from two points of view -- Alison's and Noah's, each providing details of their affair to a detective, who is only heard off-screen. Why a detective? That's the driving mystery behind "The Affair," and viewers are largely left to fend for themselves for possible answers: Was a crime committed? And why do Noah and Alison have such radically different memories of their relationship? Something clearly bad -- possibly homicidal -- happened after these two met, and that "something" provides the series' narrative tug and pull.
As a setting, Montauk sharpens a vague sense of dread, and there's a reason for that, too. "When we were first talking about [the series], we talked about how it's a summer town, and how it's gorgeous and elegiac and bucolic," says Treem. "But sometimes because it is such a small town, and because [many of] the scenes are so bright, there's no place to hide when they're having an affair. All they want is privacy and anonymity and someplace to be alone, and the characters really struggle with that in this town."
Then, of course, there's also the symbolism of Montauk -- the lighthouse that stands on the shoulder of an ancient moraine, and the vague sense that Montauk really is either the end of the world ... or a jumping-off point to something new and unknown. That is what "The Affair" wants to evoke as well.
Then, there's always the most obvious appeal of all -- the sheer beauty of this place: "As I was sitting in London with all my kids throwing things at me as the rain poured down," West said at the TV critics' summer press tour, "I was asked if I'd be interested in doing a show set in Montauk where I have an affair with a girl on the beach.'" He laughed, adding, that's what "piqued my interest."
Sarah Treem of Long Island a rising star in TV production
Sarah Treem, 34, co-creator of "The Affair," is a fast- rising star in the television production world whose first love is the theater and whose roots are planted deep on Long Island -- her parents are Great Neck natives, and high school sweethearts, while her grandparents have homes in the Hamptons, where she spent much of her childhood.
A successful playwright -- she graduated from the Yale School of Drama, where she has also lectured -- her most recent play, "When We Were Young and Unafraid," starring Cherry Jones, opened this summer at the Manhattan Theatre Club. She made her debut at the prestigious Playwrights Horizons in 2007 with her play "A Feminine Ending," starring Gillian Jacobs and Marsha Mason. (A Treem specialty -- strong, interesting, vital women, which describes at least two major protagonists from "The Affair.")
Her ticket to TV and prestige drama was punched at HBO, where she wrote for "In Treatment" -- the drama about a New York therapist struggling with his own demons -- alongside other playwrights like Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman ("'night, Mother") and Warren Leight ("Side Man"). She later wrote for Netflix's "House of Cards."
Meanwhile, the big screen beckons. too: She's currently adapting Susan Spencer-Wendel's "Until I Say Good-Bye: My Year of Living With Joy" -- about a woman in the later stages of ALS.