Let's talk about sex. The sex in in HBO's relationship drama Tell Me You Love Me is explicit enough full frontal, full back-al, you name it that TV reporters asked creator Cynthia Mort if the stars were actually coupling on camera. (For the record, no: it was all done with prostheses and creative camera angles.)
But what matters most on Tell Me (Sundays, 9 p.m. E.T.) is the word, not the deed. It follows three couples in therapy: an engaged duo with trust issues, a pair in their 30s trying to conceive, and two parents, left, who haven't had sex in a year. (Their therapist, played by Jane Alexander, has her own marital problems and striking a blow for senior empowerment her own nude scenes.) Not unlike thirtysomething, it's a moody, talky close-focus look at how relationships form, fade, age and change. Think of it as dirtysomething.
Like the controversial violence in The Sopranos, the sex in Tell Me externalizes the conflict inside the characters. The lengthy sex scenes can be uncomfortable as can the therapy scenes for the raw emotion. The sex is sad, angry, hopeful or cathartic; the characters are trying to connect figuratively by connecting literally.
Haunting and low-key, Tell Me may be too "not TV" even for some HBO fans: there's no Mob, polygamy or murder. The stakes are simple: Will these people be able to commit, to stay together, to love? To this critic that's enough. Come to Tell Me for what's going on below the characters' waists. Stay for what's going on above their necks.
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