The bland couplings of HBO's Tell Me You Love Me.

What you're watching.
Sept. 7 2007 6:22 PM

Pottery Barn Sex

The bland couplings of HBO's Tell Me You Love Me.

Tell Me You Love Me. Click image to expand.
Adam Scott and Sonya Walger in HBO's Tell Me You Love Me

Why didn't HBO just go ahead and cut each episode of the hour-long Tell Me You Love Me (Sundays at 9 p.m. ET) to 50 minutes? The trims would have gone some way toward relieving the boredom inspired by the show's inchworm pace, and the shrink's-hour format would have made an exact fit for the spirit of the exercise. Earlier this week, I sat numbly as the makeover show Tim Gunn's Guide to Style equated the actualization of self with the acquisition of Coach handbags. This weekend, HBO subscribers can zone out while this drama's airbrushed look at couples-with-troubles flickers across the screen in the chicest way possible. This is starting to look like a trend, so, depending on your outlook, cringe in terror or shrug at the inevitable: Psychobabble is reaching new heights as an upscale spectator sport.

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

As for the cuts, you'd want to start by dropping the sex scenes that have been the locus of the hype attending the show's debut. Great sex scenes—moments in Bernardo Bertolucci films, or the conclusion of Carnal Knowledge—get you to rethink your understanding of a character or a relationship. Good ones get you hot. On Tell Me You Love Me, the frequent and flagrant recourse to moments of fleshly delectation gets you nowhere at all, amounting to so much premium-cable wallpaper.

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The sack artists are three sets of heterosexuals in the orbit of May Foster, a therapist dealing, naturally, with her own problems on the home front. It would seem that none of them has ever sat through a Woody Allen movie, say, or read a Richard Ford story: If they had, then they probably wouldn't respond to their mundane relationship problems as if they were just invented, and the show might not have the flavor of sitting in on somebody else's couples counseling sessions—its way of taking universal truths and rendering them dull. The couples:

Katie and Dave—Very lovely center island in the kitchen. Very strong commitment to their daughter's little league. Very little nookie. In the first episode, Katie catches Dave pleasuring himself and grows upset. Six episodes later, he's still at it—and with greater privacy, as Dr. Foster had them put a lock on their bedroom door—and, the show being rather static, their post-self-abuse argument has the same texture.

Carolyn and Palek—She's got long legs and a spiffy cellular phone. He's got a great tailor. Thus, they would seem to have it all. But will they be able to conceive a child? How do they feel about not having yet conceived a child? How do they look when they're trying to conceive a child? (Answers: Maybe not; it's complicated; nicely waxed.)

Jamie and Hugo—Twentysomething hipsters. Hugo would be ready to settle down and marry her if it weren't for that monogamy thing. Jamie is not impressed by this concern: "This is fucked up! Why didn't you tell me this before now? I mean, we've talked everything. We've talked about our kids, our future, who we want to be, what kind of fucking pots and pans we want to buy, but you don't tell me that you don't plan to be monogamous? Fuck you!" Cut to a shot of Jamie's low-rise jeans falling off her butt as she storms away.

Do these scenarios suggest a drama? Or a mere catalog of low-grade dysfunction? Tell Me You Love Me might have had a shot at becoming the former if love and its complications credibly entered the picture. That not being case, we're left with a tepid picture of what happens between sheets with fairly high thread counts.

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