Third wheel doesn’t en­sure a smooth ride

Three of Hearts: A Post­mod­ern Fam­ily 10.05pm, SBS

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - James Jef­frey

THE menage a trois is one of the gold stan­dards of sex­ual fan­tasy ( or so I’ve read), but one that rel­a­tively few get to live out. Af­ter the birth of my daugh­ter, I re­mem­ber the wo­man shar­ing the hospi­tal room with my wife sit­ting against her moun­tain of pil­lows, look­ing at her new baby and her part­ner ly­ing be­side her.

Her voice was tired but there was no mis­tak­ing the sar­donic edge: ‘‘ There, dar­ling, we fi­nally got that three- in- a- bed sce­nario we’ve al­ways talked about.’’

Some make it be­yond the talk, but prob­a­bly not quite like the trio in this sur­pris­ingly sweet if ul­ti­mately de­flat­ing ex­plo­ration of the flu­id­ity of hu­man sex­u­al­ity. Sam and Steven — two gay New York­ers in a long- term re­la­tion­ship — de­cide that what’s miss­ing in their lives is a wo­man. Sur­pris­ingly, it’s the deeply camp Sam — his floridly ex­pres­sive eye­brows ought to be as­signed an agent of their own — who floats the idea.

Af­ter trial and er­ror with one wo­man who’s only in it for the sex, and an­other who falls in love with one of the men but not the other, they dis­cover Sa­man­tha from Toronto. Mu­tual be­sot­ted­ness blos­soms into love, then a three- way mar­riage, and even­tu­ally preg­nancy and par­ent­hood, ten­derly cap­tured over eight years by di­rec­tor Susan Ka­plan.

The trio is mag­netic — es­pe­cially Sam — but so are some of the cameos, no­tably Steven’s mother, Mar­ion, who speaks with a Brook­lyn ac­cent and Yoda- like syn­tax (‘‘ Too happy? I don’t think they were’’).

Mar­ion ad­mits she’s been well pre­pared for the weird­ness of life by watch­ing Jerry Springer, Ricki Lake and Sally Jessy Raphael.

Then there’s Sam’s mother Dutchie. Once upon a time she was will­ing to ‘‘ beat the shit’’ out of Sam if he turned out gay; now she’s ec­static be­cause his re­la­tion­ship has lasted longer than those of any of her other off­spring.

We never meet Sam’s fa­ther — now do­ing 45 years for mur­der — but we cer­tainly hear about him. His re­sponse from jail to his son’s com­ing out went thus: ‘‘ I know peo­ple will be so against you that as your fa­ther it gives me great pain to think of all the suf­fer­ing you may have to en­dure. But on the other hand, it would have been worse news if you told me you wanted to be a cop.’’

Life hums along sweetly, but things be­gin to fal­ter some time af­ter the birth of their first child, Siena. Sam, Steven and Sa­man­tha be­gin to talk in ever larger slabs of psy­cho- bab­ble, cart­ing them­selves off to their shrinks as they be­gin the de­scent from glo­ri­ous ex­per­i­ment in love to or­di­nary, flawed hu­man­ity.

Three’s com­pany: Sam, Sa­man­tha and Steven form an un­likely fam­ily

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