If you’ve heard anything about HBO’s newest show, “Tell Me You Love Me” (Sundays, 9 p.m.), you’ve surely heard about the sex. The show focuses on three different couples with troubled relationships, and because sex is an integral part of a relationship, so too is it an integral part of this show. And as all the reviews and stories have said, there is a lot of sex. And it’s graphic sex. At least one scene has you wondering whether there was penetration and another scene certainly appears to show someone actually being brought to, uhm, happy time. But the show isn’t about the sex. Rather, it’s about the harsh and ugly underside of relationships, and the show’s realistic and mostly non-erotic sex is intended to be just one of several windows into the troubles had by the various couples.
As for those couples, they’re rather generic pairings which can be conveniently summed up as an age-group coupled with a dysfunction. There’s the twenty-somethings, Jamie and Hugo: Despite the fact that they’re engaged, Hugo isn’t necessarily ready to settle down with just one woman. Then there’s the thirty-somethings Carolyn and Palek: They’re having difficulty with the whole conceiving a kid thing. And there’s the forty-somethings, Katie and Dave: They have a dead-fish sex life, not having nookied in almost a year. The three couples are supposedly bound together, for the purpose of this show, by the fact that they’re all seeing the same therapist (I say “supposedly” because one couple hasn’t made it to the therapist by the end of the first episode, but I understand they’ll get there at some point). And that therapist, the sixty-something Dr. May Foster, would also appear to have some relationship dysfunction of her own (although there’s only the merest hint of it in the first episode).
Truthfully, the characters aren’t quite this over-simplified, but from the first episode (and the previews for the second), they don’t seem all that much more in-depth. Which of course makes it hard to care about them. I mean, the actors are giving some really solid performances but, as good as they are, I just don’t much care if the younger ones stay together, if the middle ones get knocked up or if the older ones ever have sex again. And my lack of interest isn’t helped any by the generally rote and generic dialogue. I suspect that much of the dialogue is intentionally rote and generic, since the underlying goal of the show is its attempt for realism, and aren’t many real conversations rather dull and generic? But that’s why “true” reality TV rarely works — reality just ain’t that interesting. So while the show’s goal of realism is commendable in the abstract, it winds up making the whole thing feel a bit slow-paced and dull at times.
And for me, thing aren’t helped any by the “what” which the show is trying to realistically portray, namely, these hard and complicated relationships. I have nothing against a show that tries to get a bit gritty and heavy-hearted — in fact, I’ve surely called for more such shows in the past. But I’m just not that interested in seeing troubled relationships played out and beat to death on my TV screen (and my understanding is that things will get considerably uglier for these couples, especially the thirty-somethings, as the series progresses). While I haven’t had any of these specific problems, per se, in any of my relationships, I’ve certainly had some of the same (or related) conversations and arguments. And I suspect this is true for many of you — even if you haven’t had the exact same argument, you’ve probably had ones which had the same emotion and feeling at their core. The result of this, for me at least, is that it all has a bit of a “been there, done that” feel. And this surely won’t be helped any by the fact that we’ll apparently see the same arguments over and over again as the show progresses (which is certainly another “reality” part of relationships).
So when you boil it down, this is one of those shows which the critic in me applauds, but the viewer in me just isn’t that into it. Especially on a Sunday night, when I’m gearing up for another dragging week at work. If I’m going to watch dark and dismal stuff to get myself ready for yet another work week, well, that’s what the Philadelphia Eagles are for.
Thoughts on a night’s sleep: So I wrote this review late last night, after watching the Giants get beat by the despicable T.O. and his Cowgirls, and then I slept on it. This morning, I find myself feeling somewhat less harsh about the show than the above review sounds. While its pacing is slow, there’s something slightly compelling about the voyeuristic view into these relationships, even if there is a “been there, done that” feel. I think it’s largely due to the actors — as I said, I don’t feel invested in the characters or much care what happens to them, but I do feel strangely compelled to keep watching the performances. So while I’m sticking to my sentiment that this isn’t something I will watch on Sunday nights, I think I may keep recording it for mid-week while-I-work viewings.
Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television editor. Last night he had sweet, sweet dreams of sixty-year-old oral sex, thanks to HBO.
It's Not Porn, It's HBO
"Tell Me You Love Me" / The TV Whore
Sept. 10, 2007
TV | September 10, 2007 | Comments ()