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.