HBO’s new show, "Tell Me You Love Me" premiered this week. It follows 4 couples, 3 of them 20’s-40-year-old clients and their 60-year-old therapist Jane Alexander and her husband through their relational and sexual lives. It is the most sexually graphic, though not the most erotic, show I’ve ever seen on television.
The sex is a problem. Due to the strictures of television, even the 60-year-olds acheived orgasm in under 3 minutes. All, including the 60-year-olds had perfect model bodies, skinny, unblemished, buff. The women didn’t need a "hand", unlike the majority of women in any survey I’ve read.
The therapy is a problem, too. The therapist makes no attempt at relationship before she asks the most intimate questions. Every client lies to her about their thoughts, their feelings, and their behavior. (I’d lie to a stranger, too.) And on returning for the next session, they lie again.
I don’t think the writer/producer, Cynthia Mort, understands the relational aspects of sex or therapy. I don’t think she knows that while hard bodies (and hard body parts) often start the initial attraction, it’s the attachment that keeps good sex and good therapy going through the hard times. And I don’t think she understands that in relationships, especially with her viewers, narrative is important.
So what’s the show about? 4 couples. One couple is young, engaged, and dealing with the man’s already roving eye, and difficulty saying he’ll be monogamous. One couple is trying to get pregnant. For the woman, fertility trumps everything else in the relationship. In the third, the two young children are the center of the relationship and there’s been no sex for a year. Neither partner can "climb over the wall" to touch each other, except for perfunctory pecks on the cheek. Jane Alexander and David Selby were the only actors I recognized. They play the therapist and her husband, who have an affectionate and active sex life.
The show contains vignettes of sex, or missed opportunities for sex, with each couple, and a little bit of their middle to upper-middle class lives, interspersed with unsatisfying therapy sessions.
Here’s the rant part: Why can’t anyone show good therapy on TV? Why can’t people on TV look like people look! If the producers/writers/directors want to show realistic sex, make it realistic, messy, hesitant. Have the 60-year-olds use lube. Have people talk to each other during, or guide each others’ hands or positions. Have the foreplay last longer than 30 seconds. Don’t have every orgasmic person make exactly the same head movements. They don’t!
I know why. The producers are selling a product and they want to make it pretty to sell it to the buyer, HBO. They’ve forgotten about the huge viewership all of the reality talk shows with fat, working-class, dysfunctional people parading their problems. "Tell Me You Love Me" had only 900,000 viewers, a miniscule viewership for an HBO premiere. I think they could find more viewers if they "kept it real", rather than fantasy. 11 million of us watched Tony Soprano, in all his largeness, have sex. Even the gay character was fat, and hesitant. Make it real! End of rant.