Each minute of “Tell Me You Love Me,” the new HBO drama set in the former time slot of “The Sopranos,” reads like the play-by-play of a bad porno:
Masturbation at 0:01 (and 0:24). Hand job at 0:53. Woman inserting a tampon (if you’re into that kind of thing) at 1:04.
I don’t even want to talk about the 10-year-old girl.
There’s a good deal of vaginal sex scenes as well, but they’re so graphic they’re almost embarrassing. Watching them feels like walking into a friend’s room only to find him getting busy with his girlfriend – part of you is intrigued, but most of you just wants to walk away.
From the non-sex scenes of “Tell Me You Love Me,” of which there are few, the show appears to deal with three generations of couples and their attempts to right their relationships with the aid of therapist Dr. May Foster (Jane Alexander). Unlike shows like “Desperate Housewives,” which portray bad relationships as volatile, somewhat terrifying beasts flush with name-calling and thrown vases, “Tell Me” draws out the uncomfortable realizations that hurt more than any insult or household object.
If nothing else, the show’s voyeuristic approach to dialogue and characters sets it apart from the typical television drama. The show’s characters are rounder and more developed than typical sitcom cut-ups. “Tell Me” has the right idea in focusing on actual problems many couples face. If the show had the ability to portray relationships in a way both realistic (it’s got that down) and compelling (not so much), it would be taking the typical romantic drama one step further.
Problem is, the true-to-life romantic issues “Tell Me” rolls out aren’t nearly as interesting as the made-up stuff. An uncomfortable five-minute silence while husband and wife realize they have nothing to talk about while remodeling their house may be representative of genuine romantic dysfunction – but it’s boring as hell. There are enough reality shows already. The last thing we need are dramas that possess an obscene attention to detail that would make even the “Laguna Beach” producers blush. It seems creator Cynthia Mort and director Patricia Rozema have conflated frank realism and downright tedium, and the result is an uncanny obsession with the kind of moments that people try to escape from by turning on the set.