Sex, love and money. It isn’t just a song by Mos Def; it’s the trifecta for a supposed happy life. With its newest drama Satisfaction, USA peels the protective layer off of that trio and tries to expose something about humanity that doesn’t always get conveyed properly in this modern era of “ME!” Happiness doesn’t need to be tethered to dollar bills or orgasms, because sometimes all it takes is hot coffee around a clean swimming pool. Sure, it takes money to keep that swimming pool clean, but Satisfaction isn’t answering all the questions here.
The Glades’s Matt Passmore stars as Neil Truman, an investment banker whose success has come at the expense of family time and a marriage that, while not mired in arguments, is hanging on by one long thread. His wife Grace (Stephanie Szostak) is dutiful to a point, though she seems to be more inclined to allow Neil to continue in his ceaseless loop without stepping in to say what’s wrong. Their daughter Anika (Michelle DeShon) is the same way, accepting that Neil’s job comes first without making a nasty fuss over it. It’s a story we’ve seen time and again, though this first episode delightfully sidesteps pointless arguments and allows its adult characters to cure their own inner seething in different ways.
For Grace, it’s getting involved with Simon, a male escort played by Switched at Birth’s Blair Redford. It’s a quasi-relationship based on attention, which is sometimes more important to people than love. And Neil seems to understand that when he stumbles upon Simon leaving his house at a time when Grace thinks Neil is off on a work trip.
To Neil, this isn’t a matter that needs a heavy confrontation; it’s one where a better perspective on things is necessary, and finding Simon’s phone and contact list is a good place to start. Neil was already on the cusp of having some great personal epiphany anyway, as his behavior at work (and in particular on an airplane with the worst flight attendant in history) is suddenly motivated by inner desires rather than exterior ones. He wants the titular satisfaction, but he doesn’t know how to find it if it isn’t invested in huge TVs, a nice house and fashionable ties.
I ended up liking Satisfaction a lot more than I thought I would, having been exhausted by USA’s endless line of “buddy” comedies and dramas. The plot is driven forward at a nice contemplative simmer, with enough “aha” moments to keep it from being sluggish. I feel for both Neil and Grace, because they’re clearly not unhappy with each other and intend to keep their family dynamic strong. But the urge to feel something more will probably never leave them now, which should make for an interesting season of television. Maybe we can leave Neil’s pool-cleaning self-psychiatry alone now though, along with the hokey "Look into this flower" philosophy. Neil and I are on the same side with that.
Satisfaction was created by Sean Jablonski, a former executive producer on Suits and Nip/Tuck. No USA series will ever match the tawdriness of the latter, but Satisfaction isn’t exactly family-friendly, with a strong focus on sex and atypical emotional responses. (There’s even an F-bomb in one scene, though it’s in the background.) As such, I’m not quite sure what the target audience for this series is, but I’m guessing anyone with a secret cell phone is going to eat it up.
Satisfaction premieres tonight, July 17, and airs on Thursday nights on USA at 10 p.m. ET.