Sometimes in love the question is more important than the answer. Monogamish is a series that’s all about asking the kind of questions any long-term couple faces. How do you keep love alive? Can you find a balance between variety and stability? If your partner strays, will they ever really come back? And is there a way to have the best of both worlds?
For the past ten years Nele (Vera Bommer) and Gianni (Nicola Mastroberardino) have been happily married – perhaps a little too happily married, as after a decade together they’ve fallen into a rut that’s drained all the passion out of their relationship. Instead of turning to each other, they both secretly turn to online dating – but when the website matches them with each other, their days of pretending to each other that they’re happy with their relationship are over.
It’s easy to imagine a version of this story where being matched with each other means they still want each other deep down. Monogamish knows that love and relationships aren’t that simple. What is it they really want out of their relationship if they still want the same things but aren’t sure they still want them from each other?
Monogamish means “mostly monogamous”, as in a couple that are together but still sleep around with the others’ knowledge. It’s hardly a new thing, but where in the past the urge to stray was largely expressed through affairs (whether their partner knew about them or not) this suggests a system whereby opening the door to other sexual partners is something agreed to up front. And by asking the hard questions about their relationship, Nele and Gianni start on a journey that will take them through that door and into a very different world from the one they’ve spent the last decade in.
One of the big strengths of Monogamish is that it’s a series about the journey, about asking questions rather than finding answers. Faced with each other’s (potential) infidelity, Gianni and Nele decide to see a therapist with the aim of reviving their sex life by figuring out what it is they really want – only to quickly discover that want they want out of their future lives is very different indeed.
Nele and Gianni don’t exist in isolation, and their relationship’s new direction sends shockwaves through their social circle. Their friends Monika (Vera Bommer) and Heinz (Leandro Nigro) have a traditional middle-class marriage – he works, she looks after the kids – but it’s only bringing up their sons that holds them together, and their eldest son has had enough.
Older couple Clara (Sunnyi Melles) and Anton (Peter Jecklin) seem to be proof that it’s still possible to keep a marriage alive and vital after many years, but it’s not all smooth sailing for them either. Everyone has secrets, everyone is putting up a front; Monogamish doesn’t let any of its characters off lightly.
Once Gianni and Nele decide that perhaps the path to sexual satisfaction lies with other people, new options – old lovers, current bosses – suddenly appear on the scene. But even with permission (which isn’t always granted), navigating a series of sometimes overlapping relationships isn’t easy. Jealousy doesn’t magically vanish just because you talked about it the night before. And sex with new people turns out to be not so much an answer as yet another question: how do we let go of our partner when what they want, at least some of the time, isn’t us?
This acknowledgement of the gap between words and actions is a big part of what makes Monogamish so interesting. It’s a series about sex, but there’s a lot of talking (to friends, to therapists, to each other) as just about everyone tries to figure out exactly what it is they want – only to discover more than once that what they said they wanted and what they really want are two very different things.
That’s why the act of asking questions is so important. It shows that both Nele and Gianni want to find out who they really are. At first they hope it’ll bring them closer together; later it becomes clear that maybe they’re on different paths after all. But without asking if there’s any hope for them as a couple – is intimacy essential to their relationship or can variety can lead them back to each other, and do they even want to keep what they once had – there’s no real hope at all.
Monogamish seasons 1 and 2 will be available to stream at SBS On Demand from 26 December.
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