For generations, anyone who identified outside the heteronormative model of sexual attraction has had little opportunity to see the love stories of their real lives reflected in the narratives of our popular culture. Though things have changed in recent years, it’s still comparatively difficult for men or women who identify as gay to find entertainment content that speaks directly to their experience; for those whose sexual orientation is even further outside the expected paradigms of our society, it’s nearly impossible.
Consider the case of the polyamorous “thruple,” a relationship model that has gained visibility within the current generation, who are either more drawn to triangular bonds than ever before or are simply less afraid to admit it; one would be hard-pressed to think of a single example of such an arrangement in film or television, even today, and whenever we see a three-way romance portrayed on our screens, it’s usually in a story of rivalry, betrayal, or worse, and we can pretty much predict that it’s going to end badly.
“The Third,” a new series coming in October from queer streaming network Dekkoo, is hoping to change all that. Created by filmmaker Matthew Lynn, it’s a provocative look at the passionate relationship that develops when 29-year-old Jason (Sean McBride) stumbles into a “triad” relationship with Carl and David (Corey Page and Ryland Shelton), an established gay Palm Springs couple who are on the outs after five years of marriage. Thinking that a third person might spice up their relationship, they agree to move forward with Jason – only to encounter a whole new set of complications.
That’s a premise that’s sure to be met with raised eyebrows and skepticism by a lot of viewers, and that’s exactly the point. From the very beginning of its first episode, the show wastes no time in showing us just how much judgment anyone in a polyamorous relationship must put up with, not just from outsiders, but even from themselves. After an opening sequence in which young Jason buys flowers for his two older paramours (risking the withering attitude of the cashier at the florist) we flash back to the early days of their relationship; even in the intoxicating glow of fresh infatuation, each of the men, for reasons of their own, questions the wisdom of what they’re about to do, but that doesn’t mean any of them wants to stop it from happening.
The debut installment handles the basic set-up for the show’s premise and gets us engaged by introducing us to its three charming and attractive leading men. It also does a great job of using the Palm Springs setting as more than just a backdrop but a condition of the story; it’s a beautiful and vital city that doesn’t get nearly enough attention on film and television, and it’s refreshing to see it given such loving treatment here. In terms of story, it doesn’t give us much beyond establishing the situation between the three lovers and teasing us with hints of serious trouble ahead, but according to the show’s official synopsis, we can expect the central affair will be “jeopardized by skepticism, jealousy and secrets,” as this nervous trio journeys into their brave new world, writing their own rules along the way and trying to figure out the true definition of love. Promising part drama, part comedy and a healthy dose of mystery, “The Third” delivers a sexy and stylish opener that hooks us in and makes us want to keep watching – while also showing that it’s not afraid to cross boundaries.
Show creator Lynn explains the origins of his show by remembering, “When I was 23, I came out to my family and they said, ‘Leave and never come back.’ Soon after, a gay couple took me in and became my surrogate family; eventually, we entered into a triad relationship. These people taught me how to be a gay man and live in this new world I had discovered. My experiences in this relationship provided the initial inspiration for the show.”
Lynn says he feels a responsibility to present his characters and their lives in a positive way. “As a gay creator,” he says, “I want to portray gay relationships without any sensationalism or exoticism. At the same time, I didn’t want to shy away from or be ashamed of what it means to be gay in today’s world.”
That means there are sometimes going to be things onscreen that many viewers will find provocative, even shocking. The first episode alone features several such moments, but the boundaries these push have nothing to do with nudity or sexual content; rather, the things that take us out of our comfort zone are more about attitudes and ideas, challenges to our preconceived – and persistently binary – concepts of what a relationship is supposed to look like. If we’re being honest, there are a lot of us who would have no problem experimenting with an extra partner or two in the bedroom – but expand that experimentation into something that lasts longer than a single night, and even the most permissive of sexual adventurers is likely to become as closed-minded as any prudish church lady.
This might be because “conventional wisdom” usually declares that such relationships are complicated, unstable, and doomed to fail. After all, “adding a third” to an established couple can only bring a whole new dimension of skepticism, jealousy, and secret-keeping to the dynamic, right?
If things get messy, though, is that really any different than any other relationship? And if that relationship is important, isn’t it worth the effort it takes to learn how to make it work? That’s a central idea in a story that Lynn says is not only “very real to me, but to many others as well.”
Elaborating, he adds, “At my production company, Bridge the Divide Media, our mission is telling stories on the fringe of society, and I wanted to show a gay relationship in a way that’s never been shown before. Something that didn’t feel like it was gay first, but human first – but also not shying away from it or being ashamed by it. Many people are now in ‘non-traditional’ relationships and this show is about bringing light to them and their unique stories. All of us are looking for somewhere to belong.”
When “The Third” debuts on Oct. 24, that somewhere just might be Dekkoo.