The Complete First Season
- Buy the DVD
All photos © HBO
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
BO’s “Tell Me You Love Me” is a difficult show to recommend, but that’s not an indictment of its quality. The series debuted last September, alongside the sixth season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” – a programming move that likely hurt both series; it’d be similar to pairing “CSI” with “Three’s Company.” (Maybe that’s not the best analogy, but you get the idea.) Months before its premiere, the show earned a notorious reputation for its explicit sex scenes. So pervasive was the stigma that many probably tuned in expecting a “Red Shoe Diaries” type of affair. Those “many” were probably disappointed by its raw approach to – let’s call a spade a spade – fucking, as well as shaken by the complexity of emotions on display.
It’s hyperbole to say that “Tell Me You Love Me” is boldly original. Similar approaches to intimacy have been done many times in cinema, going as far back as the fucked up frankness of “Last Tango in Paris.” But this is a television series, and it asks more of its viewers than to stay put for two hours. It’s hard to imagine that viewers even wanted to tune in week after week, but if you’ve got the fortitude, DVD is probably the best way to experience its first season. I’m so jaded about television that I wonder about its “target audience.” A show like this couldn’t possibly have had a target audience; it’s too niche for strategy, and HBO should be commended for not caring whether or not it might appeal. I’ve no idea who wouldn’t groove on it, but it’d likely be appreciated most by couples who realize the difficulties of keeping a union together. Even then it’s not a comfortable show to view, but it is rewarding if approached with an open mind.
Two couples are front and center for all 10 episodes and both see the same therapist, May (Jane Alexander). Carolyn (Sonya Walger) and Palek (Adam Scott) appear successful in most areas of their marriage except for one: conceiving a child. And it’s this one problem that’s dragging everything else down – it becomes central to everything they’re about and the union is crumbling over the issue. David (Tim DeKay) and Katie (Ally Walker) have their own debilitating issue: they haven’t had sex in a year. Everything else is peachy, including their love for their kids and each other - but this one thing is the elephant in the room. These issues keep both couples from achieving intimacy and contribute to building distance. If you’re younger and single, perhaps the third prominent storyline of Jaime (Michelle Borth) is most relatable…but it may also be the most complex because she doesn’t have a steady to knock up against. She’s a mid-20s girl with dreams of love, but lacks the conviction or desire to let it truly happen. She connects with several different guys throughout the season, and each tests her mettle in different ways. Ultimately Hugo (Luke Kirby) is her primary, but can she ever give enough of herself to make it work? The fourth and final storyline involves the therapist May and her husband Arthur (David Selby). It’s the most ambiguous, and rather than being rooted in present problems, it harkens back to their experiences in the past. It’s something of a mild mystery and best understood through viewing the series.
“Tell Me You Love Me” does not deal with its characters in any kind of normal TV sense. What was outlined above is mostly what you’re going to get, only in greater and often more painful detail. The characters are oddly stripped and devoid of “character.” Imagine an entire series handled like the Cruise and Kidman one-on-one scenes from “Eyes Wide Shut” and you can sorta guess where the show’s coming from. These people won’t amuse you. They won’t get into pop culture conversations. There aren’t many breaks from the core issues to make you feel cozy and warm. These people will challenge you. They will hurt you. They will have you squirming in your seat. But keep watching and the last episode might just leave you feeling hopeful. And what about those infamous sex scenes? On some levels they might be seen as sexy, especially any scene with Michelle Borth, who’s called upon to really put herself out there. But when the characters are so conflicted and hurting, how sexy can 60 seconds of graphic fucking really be?
Special Features: As is frequently the case with HBO sets, the pickings are slim: only four commentaries are found here. Creator Cynthia Mort goes solo on the first episode. The others are spread out among three of the series’ “couples” – Tim DeKay and Ally Walker (episode four), Michelle Borth and Luke Kirby (episode seven), and Adam Scott and Sonya Walger (episode eight).