Tell Me You Love Me, HBO’s new foray into extremism, premiered a few Sundays ago. Remember: this isn’t TV…it’s HBO. So it’s reasonable to expect something more than you’d find on a network; more violence (The Sopranos or Oz), or the absurd embrace of the filthiest language a South Dakotan can rustle up (Deadwood).
Or, in this case, sex. Graphic sex. Unprecedented non-porn graphic TV sex. Story-based unprecedented non-porn graphic TV sex, but unprecedented non-porn graphic TV sex nonetheless. The creators would call it “unflinchingly honest”.
I call it boring.
Most viewers probably tuned in for the sex in the first episode, of course. The show is so dreary, though, that I wonder how many will still be tuning in by part ten. But for the sake of the prurient among us, here’s the body-part count for just the opening hour:
Three sets of breasts (which, at least, aren’t enhanced, so you’ll know right away that this isn’t Cinemax); too many butt shots to count, from each gender; two quick vaginal-area shots, which made me wonder if their agents had contractually limited the amount of screen time these parts got; one lengthy mid-intercourse testicle-display, and … one very fake penis, displayed at length during a boxing match handjob. (And seriously, if a review includes the term “boxing match handjob” and you’re not at least a little interested in finding out more, you’re reading the wrong article right now.) Why in the world we’d need a fake penis when we see all the rest, I have no idea, unless it’s less about showing the goods and more about asking an actress to actually give an actor a handjob on camera. Which I can understand, all Brown Bunny trailblazing notwithstanding.
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But the sex is just an obligatory backdrop for the stories of three couples (four, if you count their shared therapist, played by a sedate Jane Alexander, and her husband) and their sexual entanglements, or lack thereof. There’s the immature and whiny mid-20s couple (Michelle Borth and Luke Farrell-Kirby) who fight and fuck and that’s about it. Then there’s the career-focused and self-obsessed early-30s couple (Sonya Walger and Adam Scott) who only seem to have sex for procreation anymore, because they can’t get pregnant. And there’s the family-anchored but drifting apart late-30s couple (Ally Walker and Tim DeKay, pictured above) who love each other, but don’t have sex anymore. It’s telling that it’s this last couple whose story is most intriguing, despite the fact that aside from some curiously hidden solo masturbation (and again, why hide that, given what else is shown here?), they have no sex at all.
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A friend of mine online summed it up perfectly: it’s like watching paint fuck.
I know that’s one of the messages of the show. The sex isn’t the point — the relationships are, and the sexual politics are just part of what gets in the way for these couples. I get that. I get how mechanical the sex is, how desperate, how hollow, how all-that it is right from the start. And once I get that, showing me again is just, well, boring. If the sex isn’t the point, stop showing me the sex, and get to the point.
And it will, I think. These first episodes have been mostly set-up, all fluff for the money shot. There’s enough here for me to keep watching, even if for the moment, I’m only interested in one of the three storylines. I’m hopeful that will change, in time, and the writing will overcome the graphic-sex gimmick.
And I keep coming back to the titular demand: Tell Me You Love Me. And well, like any demanding lover asking that question prematurely, I’ll say the same thing in response: I think I could…but let’s get the sex out of the way, first. -- Teague Bohlen