Louis Theroux’s new project, three part mini-series Altered States, tracks the lives of Americans living outside their traditional social norms in the main stage of their lives; Birth, Love, and Death.
In the first episode Theroux follows multiple groups of people engaged in polyamorous relationships in the liberal north-western town of Portland, Oregon – first meeting with open-married couple Jerry and Heidi, and their daughter Piper. With his classically wry but compassionate eye, Theroux inquires unblinkingly into the specifics of Heidi’s relationship with her second fiancé, Joe, and eventually in turn meets Joe’s first wife, Gretchen.
While some characters appear mildly anxious about their state of affairs, such as soon-to-be father Matthias, whose partner and mother of his child AJ finds new love with “metamour” Q three months before the child’s birth, all round the polyamorous lovers interviewed hold up to scrutiny, dismissing interrogations about insecurity, jealousy, and “not being enough” with radically selfless responses that emphasise “compersion,” or the joy at seeing a loved one love someone else. Even Louis himself, after engaging (obviously) in a blindfolded sensual feeding party, admits that for a moment, this unconventional world makes “a tiny bit of sense.” Nonetheless, having heard him speak a great deal throughout the episode about his wife, we can’t help but wonder what she might have to say about all this decidedly un-British behaviour.
Louis Theroux always delivers good television, with his characteristic blend of boyish humour and unflinching lack of judgement, and this series is no different.
As he delves further into Western taboos, Theroux seems to become even more open-minded the older he gets, perhaps less eager to join in, but always willing to listen, and often asking exactly the right questions. Altered States is a brilliant addition to his ouvre , if only to learn that you shouldn’t load your plate up with cheese at a feeding party.
Altered States is available online now on BBC Catch Up