Audience Network’s series You Me Her isn’t the first series to tackle a three-way romantic relationship, but it may be the first actually to give it its due. Last season on Mistresses, Karen (Yunjin Kim) entered into an understanding with married couple Alec and Vivian, only to, predictably, break one of their rules by privately seeing Alec on the side. And while some might suggest Mormon-themed Sister Wives type shows like Big Love, none of those women are sleeping with one another.
Polyamory on TV has been restricted largely to voyeuristic fascination (see Showtime’s Polyamory: Married & Dating), and rarely delved into with any kind of normalcy (sci-fi show Caprica‘s “group marriage” being the only example I can think of that might qualify). So You Me Her doesn’t have a lot of depictions to be compared with, but perhaps we can see it as a jumping off point.
Based in Portland, Oregon, where I have personally known many queer-identified couples who had open relationships or were part of a polyamorous situation, married couple Jack (Greg Poehler) and Emma (Rachel Blanchard) are complacent in their day-to-day. While being challenged at work, their home life has lost its lustre, and so Jack calls upon an escort to help revive his sex drive.
A college student by day, Izzy (Priscilla Faia) makes good money spending time with men who pay for her services. Her best friend/roommate Nina (Melanie Papalia) lives the same life, and together, they commiserate and celebrate their youth, sensuality and freedom. What begins as Jack hiring Izzy turns into his inability to go through with things, and an honest confession to Emma about what didn’t actually happen. Emma’s interest is piqued, however, and she hires Izzy for herself, becoming tantalized by Izzy’s universal allure beginning the season-long entanglement that takes place over a 10-day period.
Each episode of You Me Her is largely about two things: Negotiating how the three-way relationship will work and how to keep it a secret from nosy neighbors and co-workers. It starts off as a business relationship—the couple is paying Izzy for her “service.” But as they spend more time together on separate dates and all together, the trio admit to feelings they didn’t expect, although they are often brought on by nighttime consumption of alcohol and weed, something never addressed by anyone in sobering light of day.
What’s most confusing is how Izzy ever really feels. She switches quickly from expressing her want to be a live-in third with Jack and Emma to her sudden obsession with dating Andy (Jarod Joseph), who she claims she really, really likes. One day, she’s a self-assured, sexually confident and stable woman who is control of her destiny, and the next she’s crying in Jack and Emma’s kitchen, wondering why they won’t skip work to hang out with her.
Izzy’s inconsistencies aside, her chemistry is most palpable with Emma, and their scenes together are the only real reason I believed she might actually be hopeful about being the couple’s third. Their one-on-one time is filled with flirtation, rooftop make outs and under-the-table footjobs. In comparison, Jack’s time with Izzy feels forced.
Just to make sure it wasn’t my lesbianism getting in the way of Jack’s possible likability, a conversation with a bisexual friend of mine confirmed that it wasn’t just me: Jack is antithetical to the sexy situation going on between Emma and Izzy. His marriage to Emma is believable, as they met in college, share a lot of commonalities and have a much more inspired sex life after integrating Izzy into their lives (mostly when she’s not even there), but Izzy’s want for him is lacking, and vice versa.
One of the more darkly comic parts of this show is the struggle for the husband and wife to keep their polyamory a secret. The friends who know about the situation are staunchly against the relationship, some even saying they would have to cut themselves off from Jack and Emma if it were to ever become public knowledge. Jack’s assistant dean position at a ritzy private school adds to the pressure, especially since one of his higher-ups lives right next door with her blackmail-happy teen daughter.
What You Me Her does best is present the idea of polyamory as a viable option for consenting adults who can get their shit together and be unconcerned about the public’s perceived shock and awe. I appreciated how the series, written by John Scott Shepherd and directed by out writer/director Nisha Ganatra, largely treated Emma’s newfound Sapphic side with the same respect that her relationship with Jack and his relationship with Izzy, even if the perceived attraction for the latter was uneven.
As of now, You Me Her hasn’t been renewed for a second season, but the cliffhanger end of Season One begs the question, “Can this ever really work?” And for many real throuples, the answer is yes. Is television ready to watch that happen? For sure—they just might need a more convincing third party, and I don’t mean Izzy.