Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The (very) naked truth

As I've been immersing myself in network pilots and summer cable series to get ready for the start of the Television Critics Association summer press tour (I arrive on Thursday), no show has gotten my attention more than HBO's "Tell Me You Love Me," a drama series about three couples -- Tim DeKay and Ally Walker as fortysomething parents who've stopped having sex, Adam Scott and Sonya Walger as thirtysomethings struggling to get pregnant, and Michelle Borth and Luke Kirby as a twentysomething engaged couple struggling with fidelity issues -- all seeing the same therapist (played by Jane Alexander).

Specifically, what grabbed my attention -- as Pittsburgh Post-Gazette critic (and TCA president) Rob Owen pointed out in his column -- are the sex scenes, which are the most graphic by far that I've ever seen on television, and maybe the most graphic I've seen outside of straight porn. Several scenes are shot in such a way that the pressing question isn't "Are the actors really having sex?" but rather, "How in the world are the actors not really having sex?" Even the scenes that are shot with a little more ambiguity -- say, Alexander pleasuring her husband -- are several magnitudes blunter than you ever see in mainstream entertainment.

Yet what's interesting is how unerotic -- deliberately so, I'm sure -- all of the sex is. This is the story of three deeply unhappy couples (plus Alexander and her perfect husband), and the sex scenes have a sad, desperate quality to them.

Even more interesting was how engrossed I got in all these bleak, fairly repetitive storylines. HBO sent out all 10 episodes, and even though I had plenty of other things I could and should have been watching, I zipped through all 10 -- and it wasn't the promise of seeing NC-17 action that kept me coming back. The performances are uniformly good, particularly DeKay and Walker, and the small details and complexities of relationships are covered in a way reminiscent of HerskoZwick.

Yet I imagine most, if not all, of Thursday's TCA session for the show will be about the sex. And I have to admit, I'm kinda curious how they pulled it off. Was CGI involved? Very intricate choreography?

"Tell Me You Love Me" debuts on Sept. 9, and I imagine I'll be writing a lot about the show between now and then.

17 comments:

Colin Samuels said...

Graphic sex scenes aside, the underlying concept sounds strangely familiar. Wasn't this more-or-less the same premise "Knot's Landing" used in (and pretty readily abandoned after) it's debut season? As I recall, the original program centered on four married couples: Karen (the Michele Lee character) and her first husband were the steady couple, Gary and Val Ewing were the couple recovering from infidelity, there was a forgettable couple of newlyweds, and there was one more couple whose marriage was on the rocks.

Perhaps HBO will stick with the concept. As with other ensemble shows, some characters and stories will work well while others leave the audience cold; continuing to pay attention to all regardless might be an option for HBO these days, but it certainly wasn't for network television in the early 80s.

Alan Sepinwall said...

It's not really a Knots Landing kind of feel. The three couples don't know each other at all, though their paths occasionally cross (Borth is best friends with Walger's sister, Scott and DeKay have a minor work connection). It's essentially "Scenes From Three Marriages" (or engagements, or whatever), with Alexander's character tying the three separate stories together.

Abbie said...

It reminds me of a show whose name is totally escaping me. It was on basic cable (Bravo, I think) a few years ago and the acting was mostly improv, but it followed several couples in rocky marriages who were all seeing the same therapist. We never saw the therapist, though- the therapy scenes were shot from the therapist's POV. But it was supposed to be slightly funny (and sad and desperate too).

Abbie said...

Aha, it was "Significant Others" and ran on Bravo for a few episodes in 2004.

Alan Sepinwall said...

This is closer in structure to "Significant Others," but far grimmer. I'm not sure there's a single funny moment in the series (not that this is automatically a bad thing).

Colin Samuels said...

I assume this is the same Sonya Walger who has cameoed as Desmond's girlfriend, Penny, on "Lost"? If so, has there been any discussion as to whether this starring role will diminish her availability for Lost? Thanks.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Same Sonya Walger (also late of "Mind of the Married Man"), and as all 10 episodes of "Tell Me You Love Me" have been produced, this shouldn't impact any plans Cuselof might have for Penny this season.

Todd VanDerWerff said...

Just the other day, I was talking with someone about how Jane Alexander was ripe for a rediscovery on cable, and I didn't even know she was in this.

This sounds really interesting, but is HBO now turning exclusively to 10-episode seasons? That's disheartening.

rukrusher said...

Sonya Walger has also had small roles in Sleeper Cell, and CSI New York I believe. She does get around.

Dark Tyler said...

Wow, hadn't even heard of the thing. Can't wait, though, because the description sounds very intriguing.

By the way, any word when The Wire will premiere its final season? We'll have to assume it's going to be January, but then maybe HBO has something else planned for then, I dunno.

Anonymous said...

I don't get HBO and I don't plan to, but for some reason I read the post anyway (I must be bored). And I found the lovely little gem: HerskoZwick

I hope that sometime in the future I'll have reason to use it. (though, perhaps not oddly, the description of the show made me think of 30something and that woman who was protesting it)

Pam, Once and Again fan still waiting for season 3

Tosy And Cosh said...

Pam - TVonDVD reports that they actually might release Season Three after all.Something about the rights expiring, allowing another company to release the show.

Raymond said...

Do the main actors/actresses do visible nudity? The casting call requires nudity in all the major roles however it is interesting that none of the main actors (Walker,Walger,Dekay, Scott) have a previous track record of doing nudity in films.

bebe said...

I am so intrigued by this description of the sex scenes. So they are MORE graphic than soft porn but LESS graphic than regular porn? The imagination runs wild at just what kinds of sex scenes could really make you that skeptical that the actors aren't having real sex.

Something tells me it's probably more interesting in my imagination. Still, you've piqued my curiosity.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Bebe, all I can say is that, in some (but by no means all) of the sex scenes, you can see certain body parts in certain positions that would require some kind of finessing for intercourse to not be taking place.

God, that was a tortured sentence.

dez said...

They use flesh-colored barriers to keep the privates from touching in some films. Or so I've been told.

Anonymous said...

It is possible that the actresses will wear a crotch patch which would act as a barrier. Of course they couldn't wear it if the actresses have to show lower frontal nudity. Not sure if any actress is doing full nudity in this. The men too could wear certain forms of cover but judging from the preceeding comments it would seem that there is exposed genitals.