HBO // 2007 // 600 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 20th, 2008
"I love you."
"I know. That's not what I'm talking about."
"Yeah, but it's what matters."
Tell Me You Love Me, aka "that show with lots of sex in it," is the story of three different couples.
We begin by meeting a 40-something married couple, David (Tim Dekay, Peaceful Warrior) and Katie (Ally Walker, Profiler), who have two young children. At first glance, they seem to be the typical American family. But there are increasing intimacy issues between David and Katie. Katie desperately craves physical intimacy with David, but they haven't had sex in nearly a year. Sure, David is generally the model of being a good husband and a good father, but why isn't he capable of being a good lover?
There's another 30-something married couple, Palek (Adam Scott, Knocked Up) and Carolyn (Sonya Walger, Lost), who have a more explicitly tense and frustrated relationship. They've been trying to get pregnant, and failing, for quite some time. Carolyn seems to want to blame this on Palek, saying she is pretty sure that his sperm count is low and that he isn't capable of getting her pregnant. As time goes on, tensions between the two rise, and subtle power struggles come into play.
Finally, we have a much younger couple, Jamie (Michelle Borth, Wonderland) and Hugo (Luke Farrell Kirby, Shattered Glass). They're engaged to be married, but Jamie starts having second thoughts when Hugo confesses that he doesn't know whether he could be faithful to one person for an entire lifetime.
These three stories are united under the umbrella story of a couples counselor named May (Jane Alexander, Feast of Love), who helps the characters explore the complexities and turmoil of love. Meanwhile, we also see glimpses of May's healthy relationship with her husband of many years, Arthur (David Selby, Rich and Famous).
The 10 hour-long episodes are spread across four discs.
* Episode 1: Katie begins to wonder what is going wrong with her marriage when she catches David masturbating. Carolyn goes to the doctor to try and find out whether her inability to get pregnant could be her problem. Jamie begins to have serious doubts about whether she wants to marry Hugo.
* Episode 2: Dave tries to talk Katie into quitting her therapy. Carolyn and Palek continue to experience a lot of frustration. Jamie tells Hugo that she will never be able to trust him.
* Episode 3: Palek visits the fertility clinic to have his sperm examined. David and Katie experience a lot of awkwardness when their anniversary arrives. Jamie tries to find some kind of peace in the wake of her break-up with Hugo.
* Episode 4: Carolyn becomes absolutely furious when she fails a pregnancy test. David finally agrees to go to counseling with Katie. Jamie is disappointed to hear that Hugo is dealing with their break-up quite well.
* Episode 5: Carolyn determines that she wants to be artificially inseminated. David gives counseling another shot but is a bit appalled at the suggestion that he and Katie should lock their bedroom door for a few minutes each day. Jamie attempts to give up sex.
* Episode 6: David and Katie have a fight in counseling, and May suggests that they simply stop trying to have any sort of sexual relationship. Jamie continues to develop her relationship with her new friend Nick. Palek and Carolyn decide to stop trying to get pregnant and break up, but May cautions that the split should be treated with much care.
* Episode 7: A very desperate Hugo turns up on Jamie's doorstep, and she responds with affection, which upsets Nick. Palek and Carolyn begin the process of moving out of their house. David and Katie get to spend a weekend alone together, and begin to make some progress in their relationship.
* Episode 8: Carolyn startles Palek when she delivers some surprising news. David and Katie continue to make progress, despite some uncomfortable moments in counseling. Jamie and Nick have sexual difficulties.
* Episode 9: Jamie and May discuss the significance of the phrase "I Love You." A series of rather unfortunate events starts to stress out Palek. Katie skips counseling, leaving David to face May by himself.
* Episode 10: Jamie and Hugo meet up again. May is upset when she gets a phone call bearing bad news. Palek and Carolyn take a heated approach to working through their new issues. David has a stressful encounter at work, and Katie tries to work through some emotional issues.
So let's just get the thing that everyone is talking about out of the way. Yes, there's a lot of sex in this show, and it is pretty graphic. Every episode gives the viewer a generous dose of nudity and (simulated?) sex of realistic proportions, including as many of the sweaty, ugly, embarrassing details as possible. However, those of you simply seeking some skin are better off watching Cinemax. Tell Me You Love Me is as blatantly unerotic as possible. Despite all of this, don't be fooled by those who try to tell you that Tell Me You Love Me, "isn't really about sex."
Yes, the show is absolutely about sex. That's the reason all the sex is included. It is a graphic, detailed examination of many aspects of sexuality within relationships. We see people using sex as a form of power or control. We see people having sex as a way of attempting to grow closer to their partner. We see people having sex as an attempt to solve problems, or to hide problems. Essentially, we see people using sex (or not using it) as a form of communication. It is a very complex, personal, private world that is often ignored, and the goal of Tell Me You Love Me is to reveal the ways of this world in as frank, blunt, and honest a manner as possible.
This is not a gentle show; in fact, it is downright miserable at times. The creators of the show do not want you to enjoy this. They want to make you uncomfortable, to provoke you, to make you think, to reveal painful truths to you. All well and good, even admirable to a certain extent...but I know I'm not the only one who thinks that Tell Me You Love Me is a rather unpleasant show to sit through. There seems to be so much effort to make the show as humorless and grim as possible, and yet the often-simplistic "revelations" offered here don't seem to justify the effort one must put into this show.
When the show begins, it is hard to like these people. They are all whiny wimps, selfish jerks, or narcissistic snobs. As the show progresses, this situation does not change. The characters don't grow on us, they grate on us, and thus it becomes a little bit difficult to care after a while. I mean, sure, you can empathize with them to a certain degree, but at some point, you just want to tell these characters to grow up and realize that the world is a whole hell of a lot bigger than their puny bedroom problems. Also, why can't we have a little more diversity among the couples? Are upper-middle class white suburbanites the only people who have these problems?
The performances here are solid, if perhaps a little difficult to judge. By that, I mean that a lot of these actors are very good at playing annoying people, and it's hard to tell whether or not they were attempting to add any touches that would permit us to like the characters. Bearing that in mind, I will say that the most complex performances come from Tim Dekay and Ally Walker, who really do manage to make a convincing married couple. They have a natural chemistry together, whether they are fighting or just having a pleasant conversation. Adam Scott is reasonably good, while Sonya Walger memorably creates the show's most abrasive character. Michelle Borth has the least well-developed storyline to work with, and her frequent nude scenes feel gratuitous. For all the self-important seriousness here, it does seem a bit suspicious that the youngest, prettiest member of the cast gets naked twice as often as anyone else. Finally, Jane Alexander (who also disrobes from time to time) is effective in her role, though she takes the most passive approach to counseling I have ever seen.
The picture quality here is solid, a perfectly respectable transfer. Using a lot of white, blue, and grey tones, the visuals nicely convey the soft, dull, muted feeling of a doctor's office...or a Kleenex commercial. Dialogue is conveyed quite strongly in the very spare sound design, which accentuates every deep breath and shuffling foot. Music only appears as background source material for the most part, although each show ends with a different rock song playing over the credits.
In terms of extras, we don't get any featurettes or documentaries, but there are four engaging audio commentaries. The first comes from creator Cynthia Mort, who reveals all kinds of interesting facts and tidbits (the show was originally going to be titled, "Fuck Me, Please"), and also discusses the themes of the show in-depth. This is followed by three commentaries from the cast, each one features one of the different "couples." My favorite is the one on episode four featuring Tim Dekay and Ally Scott. They're obviously having a blast revisiting the show and watching all the members of the cast in embarrassing moments; it's a tremendously funny track. All the commentaries are pretty solid, with the only weakness being that each couple can only discuss their individual scenes, and they seem a little lost when trying to get into what is going on with everyone else onscreen.
If you're familiar with such HBO shows as The Sopranos, Sex and the City, and Six Feet Under, you know that therapy and sexuality are two subjects that the network is quite fond of examining. Imagine the most intense and personal moments of sexuality, relationship struggles, and therapy from all of those shows, bunch them all together in a big messy wad, and you have a pretty good idea of what you're getting with Tell Me You Love Me. It all sounds good on paper, but without the additional elements that help balance those aforementioned shows, Tell Me You Love Me goes into a tailspin due to its sheer weight. A well-intentioned misfire.
You certainly get a lot of bang for your buck, but that's not enough to save
Tell Me You Love Me from serving time for bland behavior. Guilty.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentaries by the Cast and Crew on Four Episodes