It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that sex rules the media world. Look at the publishing world and you’ll see hundreds of authors trying to replicate Daniel Steele. Look at the music world and you’ll see midriffs and cleavage abound when you should be hearing angels sing. Look at the film industry and the only things important about the preview trailers are the rating and the reasons behind the rating.
Television is no different. In fact there are many shows that explicitly advertise their sex content to grab that ultra important hormone-crazed teenage crowd. On that front, there have been plenty of hits and misses. Looking at the success of some shows from network TV boundary-pushing NYPD Blue to Playboy-promoting The Girls Next Door to Dick Wolf’s failing Convicted, television has always tried to sell sex with its shows. HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me falls somewhere in the middle.
The premium cable channel heavily promoted the show’s graphic nudity and sex, but ultimately both feel awkward and forced. As with all sex on camera, it never seems natural. That’s where the other 95% of the show comes in, and thankfully there is an attempt to portray real and honest relationships.
Tell Me centers around four couples, each having their own different set of problems. In order of appearance, couple one includes David (Tim DeKay of Carnivale fame) and Katie (Ally Walker) who have trouble being intimate with one another. Couple two includes Jaime (Michelle Borth) and Hugo (Luke Kirby) who have trouble being monogamous. Couple three includes Carolyn (Sonya Walger) and Palek (Adam Scott) who have trouble becoming pregnant. Couple four includes Dr. May (Jane Alexander) and Arthur (David Selby) who have trouble with something that has yet to be revealed.
The most convincing couple is David and Katie. Their struggles are the most realistic, and the most truthful. David and Katie are two people who love each other, and for many reasons stopped showing each other that love. They have two children and they devote themselves to their family. The love exists, just not the spark. This situation probably occurs more often than not in the era of the modern family. There never is enough time for just the two of them to be alone. They have been married for eleven years, but will not having sex with each other for more than a year cause their relationship to sour?
The least convincing couple is Jaime and Hugo. Well, the story is really about Jaime and her quest to have the perfect life — the married kind. She and Hugo were engaged, but as the wedding date drew closer, Hugo couldn’t honestly commit to Jaime nor could Jaime honestly believe Hugo would be committed to her. It wasn’t enough for Jaime.
The story wouldn’t be complete without a struggling young couple added to the mix. But Jaime plays more as an immature and spoiled brat who wants everything and nothing at the same time. At first you think it’s just that Jaime doesn’t know what kind of man she wants. But then you slowly begin to realize that Jaime just doesn’t know what kind of woman she is.
Carolyn and Palek are the most complicated. They have been married for a while and are trying unsuccessfully to have a baby. It wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that the two have been trying for over a year. It wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that each is fertile as the Garden of Eden.
Pregnancy isn’t a right, it’s a gift. Timing is everything, but Carolyn can’t understand that. She consumes herself into the concept of family that involves having children. Palek is more understanding. He can go about his day without constantly wondering what’s wrong. He doesn’t spend his day taking a pregnancy test alone in the bathroom of a drugstore nor does he contact old flames asking what-if questions. While I can’t believe he doesn’t think about their problems, he is able to deal with those problems without the stress.
The most contrived aspect of the show is that through the first six episodes most of the characters eventually seek therapy with Dr. May. It isn’t contrived that people who want help seek a therapist, it’s contrived that they seek this one person and that eventually the couples, their lives, their storylines will intertwine and this one therapist is in the middle of it all. Even Dr. May has her own relationship problems and she’s a couple’s counselor for crying out loud.
The show has a funny way of providing answers to various questions. In some cases, Dr. May provides guidance and tips. In other cases, answers are randomly aired out in passing by other characters, but with no real substance. Take, for example, why David and Katie’s daughter Isabella (Aislinn Paul) had her period so early. It’s the nitrates in the bologna that’s causing her increasing hormones. A reason is just thrown out there without any real consequence or follow-up. Who really knows why puberty is striking children sooner than in previous generations?
This may be speculation, but I suspect that the show will continue to offer up answers and reasons to any and every problem. While it’s thorough to examine all possibilities, it’s unfair and irresponsible to do so without giving perspective or completing that path. I know some of the dialogue is spoken in argument and frustration, and in those situations randomness occurs more frequently and very out of context. That’s reality, but very much believable.
It might be just that the show is trying to find its legs, and hopefully that’s the case. It would be very disappointing if the show was all about asking questions, but never offering any solutions. I’m sure many people would watch the show to help alleviate concerns about their own relationships, and in some cases it might be helpful. But insightful the show isn’t, so no one should take the show that seriously.
As the title points out, the show is about being loved. But what is love? Is it sex? Is it the ring on the left hand? It can’t be just the word being spoken? Any definition of love is general and non-universal, but that shouldn’t block these four couples from realizing what kind of love they want and need.
HBO has already renewed the show for another season, so this train isn’t slowing down yet. However, if the bulk of the problem is admitting that there is a problem, then what’s really next for these couples?