Reality television thrives on conflict. A reality show about people getting along swimmingly would be pretty boring, which is why as far as I know there’s never been one.
Which is why A&E’s new show Neighbors With Benefits is so promising: it follows a suburban community in Ohio where more than a few of the couples are into what they constantly refer to as The Lifestyle. What is The Lifestyle? It means that though most of these couples are married, all are in committed relationships, and some even have kids, they are all swingers, wife-swappers, in open marriages, whatever you want to call it. What could possibly go wrong?
In the opening moments of last Sunday’s series premiere, everything seems rosy. Tony and Diana are the unofficial leaders of a social group that appears to include at least a half-dozen couples; they host parties and freely admit to looking around the neighborhood for new recruits, while their Christian neighbor grinds his teeth and tries to talk people out of it. (Curiously, he’s still invited to all the barbecues, but this is probably just the invisible hand of the producers, ginning up conflict.) Vince and Penny are new to the neighborhood, and Ted and Diana immediately invite them to a party. Immediately it’s clear that Penny is more interested in The Lifestyle than Vince – Vince says as much – and it’s evident that rather than being some kind of commercial for polygamy, this thing is going to be more like an after-school special warning people away from it.
Things only get cringier when another pair of couples goes out to a restaurant for a double date, make the world’s most painful small talk, and then trade partners and start making out. At least one person involved is clearly not comfortable with the arrangement, but it continues, I guess because the guy doesn’t want to ruin his wife’s fun.
This theme continues with another couple, Cody and Brittany, who are so enthusiastic about The Lifestyle they are considering buying a house in the neighborhood so they can be closer to the, ah, action. However Cody soon admits to the camera that he could take or leave The Lifestyle, and would probably be happier if he had Brittany all to himself. (This seems to be the case to some extent with all of the couples we meet; even Queen Bee Diana says she only got into The Lifestyle because she wanted to hold onto Tony, who was a “player” before they got together.)
Full reality-show drama begins when it emerges that Brittany has been sexting one-on-one with Mark, another guy within The Lifestyle; this is against The Rules (yes, there are rules) and Tony admonishes Mark for the transgression while Maria, Mark’s wife, confronts Brittany and Cody restrains himself from pounding Mark into hamburger.
Needless to say, this show is chock full of drama, confrontations, poor decisions, and the awful spectacle of not-very-good-looking people seducing each other, and there is no way I will miss the next episode.
New episodes of Neighbors With Benefits air Sunday nights at 9pm on A&E.