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Wanderlust Review: There's No Titillation in This Open-Marriage Drama

Stay faithful to your other shows

Tim Surette

Marriage can be boring! That's an unavoidable part of it, and anyone who ties the knot is fooling themselves if they think repetition doesn't come with the territory of holy matrimony. Netflix's British import Wanderlust skinny dips headfirst into the slow decay of marriage -- specifically in the bedroom -- and the possibilities of f---ing anew through an open relationship. It's perfectly fine subject matter for a show, but Wanderlust manages to make it surprisingly plain before meandering in different directions.

Toni Collette stars as Joy, a woman who suffers a serious injury when she's hit by a car while riding her bike. I throw that in there because Wanderlust wants you to believe it's a huge part of the story, though after watching all six episodes of the first season, I have no idea why it's in there. That's indicative of Wanderlust's issues; it has subject matter to discuss, but has no idea how to make a TV show out of it. Joy's married to Alan (Steven Mackintosh), and after years and years of marriage, they just so happen to independently give infidelity a shot in the same week, talk about it, and then decide that getting handjobs from other people will make them happier.

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For several episodes, this works out great for them and even strengthens their own relationship. Joy gets turned on by hearing what Alan did with his coworker Clare (Zawe Ashton), and mounts him with renewed passion wherever they happen to be. There are a few tricky moments where boundaries are defined (an old boyfriend of Joy's played by Danny Kaye tests Joy's limits), but otherwise, the message is extra-marital boning is GREAT, and the lack of jealousy between Joy and Alan is either the stuff of fairy tales or these two really are perfect for swinging. But for the most part, Wanderlust explores the idea that life in your late 40s doesn't have to just be deciding what's for dinner, and late-night jumps on a trampoline or boozed-up karaoke double dates with your new sex partners can remind you about the importance of living.

Sex scenes obviously come with the territory, and Wanderlust is especially novel in that way. The show has a penchant for manual stimulation -- both self administered and shared with a partner -- that isn't the norm on TV and sometimes seems preferred over the old banana-and-donut variety. Even more perplexing is that there isn't a hint of nudity in the series at all until the very end; the sex is had with clothes on but still manages to be graphic with grunts, moans and suggestions of what's underneath.

Toni Collette, Steven Mackintosh; Wanderlust

Toni Collette, Steven Mackintosh; Wanderlust

Matt Squire/Netflix

The most interesting parts of Wanderlust aren't about Joy and Alan at all; they're about their kids, who range from age 16 to 25. Joy and Alan come clean about their new plan early in the season, and it affects the developing relationships of their kids. The youngest, Tom (Joe Hurst), gets the best scenes as the already clueless kid tries to woo a crush but finds love elsewhere, only to ruin that because his parents set the example of it being OK to move from one person to the next.

Still, Tom's scenes are too few to make Wanderlust worth a watch as the show as a whole doesn't know what it wants to do. Episode 5 is a totally bizarre sidestep; it's an hour of Joy in therapy discussing death and intimacy in a way that isn't the slightest bit fun or revealing. It's as if Wanderlust decided then and there that it was time to be serious, and no one was brave enough to say that it would completely derail the good it had going. This is the strangest standalone episode of television I have ever seen, and kicks the series in a unusual and deflating direction.

Wanderlust wants to be an insightful examination of relationships and sex, but it's never edgy enough to say anything provocative or new. Joy and Alan had decades of marriage to convince themselves to stray; you'll probably stray after just a few hours with Wanderlust.

Wanderlust makes its U.S. premiere Friday, Oct. 19 on Netflix.