The new television season is fast approaching. Week one of the NFL is nearly in the books, so along with the anticipation of Sundays and Monday nights, I am looking forward to a host of new and returning programs like Heroes, Friday Night Lights, Bionic Woman, Pushing Daisies, and Lost to name a few. However, HBO has a new series that intrigues me entitled Tell Me You Love Me. HBO got a bit of jump on the fall lineup as the first episode aired last night. For such a progressive network, HBO really misses the boat on the first episode of this series.
Tell Me You Love Me focuses on four couples at different stages in their relationship. One couple has just gotten engaged, one is struggling to get pregnant, one is married with children, and another is in their golden years of marriage. We could basically sum them up by age groups: twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, forty-somethings, and, skipping a decade, sixty-somethings. We could, as another critic argues, view these four couples as one couple at different points in their relationship. The problem with this viewpoint, and ultimately this first episode, is that it totally eradicates diversity.
The youngest couple seems happily engaged until Jamie learns of Hugo’s reservations about a lifetime commitment to one person. What will he do if, years from now, he becomes attracted to another person? Jamie cannot handle this uncertainty and leaves, only returning when Hugo promises her that he will never have sex with another person. This is all Jamie needs to hear, and as such, misses the more serious aspect of Hugo’s commitment to her, not that he will never be attracted to another person, but that he will forever be attracted to her and find ways to express it.
The next to youngest couple, Palek and Carolyn, seem wildly successful professionals, but their marriage is quickly crumbling because they have tried, unsuccessfully, for an entire year to get pregnant. Both are bound by family problems as well, and we could wonder if they would perpetuate these with their own children. Carolyn is quickly beginning to use Palek as an impregnating machine, to which he responds negatively. Palek is hurt by the absence of emotion in their sex life, be we could easily suspect hypocrisy in this viewpoint as there have doubltess been times when he offered or asked for emtionless sex with Carolyn.
Our middle-aged couple, David and Katie, seem happy enough with two children and a lovely home. However, we quickly learn that they have not had sex for an entire year. Change does not appear to be on the horizon either. David and Katie clearly love one another, but the busy-ness of their lives draws them further apart. When they are together, they are never really together. This distancing forces Katie to see a therapist who just happens to be on half of our final couple and who also counsels Palek and Carolyn and who, we could easily imagine, will soon counsel Hugo and Jame. Dr. May Foster is a marriage/sex thearpist married to Arthur who is retired. From our brief look into their life, all seems well although the preview for next week’s prgoram betrays this.
While I frequently advocate critical patience, as I wish those in charge had with the short-lived HBO series, John From Cincinnati, I have some early reservations about Tell Me You Love Me. This has got to be the prettiest, whitest, most homogenous show I have ever seen. I found myself wanting to cynically revise an old Beatles tune to go, “Look at all the pretty people…where do they all come from?” Every person on the show is gorgeous and seemingly well-to-do. Moreover, we have no non-white characters, no African, Asian, or Latin-American characters to provide alternate viewpoints on love, relationships, sex, or marriage. Diverse sexuality? Not yet. Tell Me You Love Me‘s views on all-things-love seem to be from a distinctively white, heterosexual, upper-middle class perspective. I expected more out of the gate from an HBO series.
Finally, the characters initially fall too easily into established stereotypes. The hip young couple with hip clothes and a hip apartment…the middle-aged couple with children in an un-hip suburb with drab clothes and an even more boring sex life…the cool sex therapist with a great sex life…. I hope I eat my words after upcoming episodes, but that does not seem likely. Yet all of this negativity does not preclude some of the show’s strengths, namely its unflinching, though limited, look at relationships, love, and sex. The show’s title is ingenious and drives home a great desire of most of the characters and, doubtless, its viewers as well. The show initially challenges the naive ideas that all you need is love…or great sex.
Tell Me You Love Me airs at 10 pm on Sunday nights on HBO and contains strong language and strong sexual content.