You probably don’t realise it but non-monogamy is rife in TV dramas. Unfortunately, it’s the unethical kind (also known as cheating). When it comes to ethical non-monogamy and polyamory, it’s rare to discover a TV show that not only reflects but affirms these relationship experiences. Positive depictions of loving, committed partnerships that aren’t monocentric are hard to come by but they do exist. In the past few years, there’s been a range of new shows about polyamory, as production companies realise that everyone (including monogamous people) are fascinated by open relationships.
So far, the storylines are often obsessed with closed triads (cringingly referred to as a ‘throuple’) but I’m always left wondering why they stop at three? Why not write about a whole polycule (a network of interconnecting relationships)? More characters, more storylines, more love, more drama. Imagine if Friends was a polycule, filled with current and former lovers, metamours and pals.
Not all TV shows are fictional either. Polyamory: Married & Dating was a reality series on Showtime in 2012-13. I’ve never watched it but it does star the amazing KamalaDevi McClure, whose interview I really enjoyed on episode 118 of the Normalising Non-Monogamypodcast. However, I would steer clear of most other reality TV shows that feature polyamorous relationships as they usually take a scandalous angle that makes non-monogamy seem like a freak show. Instead, I recommend watching these shows. Some have healthy dynamics and happy endings, others not so much. But I suppose that’s real life, huh?
My flatmate and I had to hold each other as the credits rolled on the final episode of Trigonometry, we were that overwhelmed with emotion. This understated drama series is a masterclass in how to handle polyamory onscreen. There are no showy, steamy, objectifying sex scenes. No overly-dramatic coming-out moments. It’s tender and believable, with fully developed characters who aren’t perfect. They make mistakes but keep trying. I’m crossing my fingers that we get a second season with Gemma, Kieran and Ray as their beautiful love story makes my heart melt.
How could I not love Nola Darling? A self-described “sex-positive, polyamorous pansexual.” Although, I should point out that her commitment-phobic narrative doesn’t exactly qualify as polyamory. Perhaps she just hasn’t found any partners that she would actually want to have relationships with? (Full disclosure: I’m only just starting season two). Either way, she’s a queer solo polyam icon for me. Definitely recommend giving this empowering show a try if someone has just broken your heart. Nola Darling will teach you how to remember that the greatest relationship you can ever have is with yourself.
I’ll pretty much watch anything with Toni Collette, Steven Macintosh or Zawe Ashton in it. So to have all three of them in this one show was a real treat for me. I felt like this was a very realistic depiction of a married couple opening up their relationship because together they’ve lost their sexual spark. Their story is packed with the excitement of new discoveries and the pain of stumbling into unexpected dynamics. You also see the relationships of their children, in their teens and twenties, as they also stumble in and out of love. This show doesn’t glamourise non-monogamy in any way, especially as the lead characters are both well into middle age, but that’s what makes me love it so much.
Of all the shows about polyamory, this one does make my eyes roll – but considering I have watched at least three seasons, I must admit it’s ok. Yes, we have another FFM closed triad here but this show is going for more of a North American rom-com angle, so it can be hella cheesy at times. My main issue with the show is that I don’t find Greg Poehler (brother of the awesome Amy Poehler) as a suitable romantic lead, especially for a show like this. He looks too much like some suburban dad, so I struggle to suspend my disbelief that he would score not one but two really hot partners. Judginess aside, this series does showcase the pitfalls of a monogamous couple trying to suddenly expand their dynamic to include a third in a very mononormative world.
As any L Word fan would know, Shane is the character you would expect to be polyamorous. Yet, in this new reboot, she turns up married and super monogamous. Instead, it’s my all-time favourite character Alice who has a go at a triad relationship in season one of Generation Q. I must admit, their storyline is one bad move after another and I spent most of the time cringing – especially that awful last scene. What was that all about? However, I love this show and I adore Alice (who get one hell of glow-up) so there was no way I could do a list of shows about polyamory without including this gem. Let’s just hope the screenwriters get a whole lot more pro-polyamory with the characters in future seasons.
Ok, so I haven’t finished watching it yet but I had to include this show. Yes, season two showcases yet another triad relationship but finally, it’s an MMF dynamic! With a woman in her 70s! How refreshing. In fact, this show has an incredible line-up of women over 45: Bette Midler and Jessica Lange are campy as all hell and even Gwyneth Paltrow manages to not be annoying. Obviously, I have no idea how the show ends up handling the non-monogamy storyline but considering it’s the cornerstone of the whole of this season, you hope that it’s done respectfully if not humorously. I mean, episode two is called Conscious Unthroupling, which is funny on its own even without Gwyneth being in the show.