I’ll give up my HBO when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers, but so far the cable channel’s executives have already pushed back seven or eight digits, and I don’t know how much longer I can hang on. When “The Wire” wraps next year, there had better be a new David Simon project in the pipeline, or I am so gone.

Never mind the hugely disappointing “John From Cincinnati,” which flopped in a season, but not before it took raunchy dialogue to a new level, and no, I’m not talking about f-bombs, or even the quasi-Victorian chop-chop salad of “Deadwood” profanity. I have never heard bowel movements (“dumping out”) discussed with such frequency, and I am a woman who has toilet-trained a child. It’s “Tell Me You Love Me” that I come to bury today, although I may not have the energy. This show, about the intimate travails of four different couples, takes it out of me.

Every so often you’ll hear water-cooler criticism of this or that popular entertainment, and someone will complain, “it’s just that there are no likable characters,” as though without a rooting interest, we have no reason to watch. I disagree. Is there a single character on “The Sopranos” that any person here would like to live next door to? (And don’t say Tony; for all the thrills he gives his square neighbors by his very presence, they think he’s guinea white trash. And they’re right.) Likable is what kills TV shows, as bored writers cave in to the demands of fan websites and network executives. All a good continuing character has to be is interesting. That’s the problem with “Tell Me You Love Me” — the characters are so boring they kill houseplants with their very presence.

HBO must know this. That’s why the show’s pre-premiere buzz was all about the sex, which is explicit but not plentiful enough to hold your interest, although my e-mail is funny enough: “Were my eyes playing tricks on me, or was that some guy’s ball sack on HBO last night?” Yes, yes it was. For the record, there were also erect wangers and one money shot, although it was done with egg whites and prosthetics. And you know how people say porn is, ultimately, boring? This is worse. At least in porn the actors say oh yeah oh yeah do me baby that’s so hot; these folks barely even breathe hard.

But that’s the point! the four or so fans of this show are saying. The sex is bad, because the couples are having problems! No, the sex is bad because the people are horrible. Also, incredibly dull. Actual line of dialogue, during a fight between the engaged couple: “This was like in Austin, when you bought a beer and you didn’t even ask if I wanted one, and then you flirted with that girl with the long arms!” This is what you hear when your neighbors are fighting. I remember once when my nursery monitor began picking up a cordless-phone conversation somewhere in the neighborhood. I leaned close, prepared to hear news of an upcoming drug deal, or maybe some phone sex. But no: “Are you getting the oil changed today?” “I don’t care; what do you want for dinner?”

The things that make people interesting — their enthusiasms, their secret fears, their sense of humor, how they choose to spend an idle Saturday — have been stripped away. I read an interview with the show’s creator, where she said this was deliberate, that she kept taking furniture and props off the sets until they were the upscale waiting-for-Godot moonscapes they are now, so that we’d concentrate on the actors, and their issues. But this isn’t theater, and the ShakyCam photography is telling us “documentary.” So, where are the unguarded moments? Does anyone ever tell a joke, bitch about a boss, fart while cuddling on the couch, study a box score? No.

Although I will confess this: Even in these minimalist settings, I couldn’t help but notice the therapist has a Noguchi table in her office. You know what I’d like to hear? Someone say, “Is that a Noguchi table?” I read an introductory text on playwrighting where authors were advised not to write “I’m so tired” if they could write “Has anyone seen my magazine?” and let the actor say it in a tired voice. What volumes could be spoken in a lively discussion of mid-century furniture.

Meanwhile, the sex is dwindling. There was only one boning scene this week, and it was done standing up in a restaurant kitchen, and needless it say, it wasn’t the chicken being boned, but the semi-nympho twentysomething character, Jaime. On the prep table! Which no one wiped down afterward! Check your salad carefully before you tuck in. I tell you this as a friend.

What was HBO thinking? They let Matthew Weiner go to AMC, where “Mad Men” is mopping the floor with them on basic cable, with commercials. While the people who are paying $10 a month get scrotums, and Showtime subscribers have “Weeds” and “Dexter.” Where is the next “Six Feet Under?” How soon can we get another season of “Big Love” on the air? “Entourage,” my friends, is not enough.


Funky Winkerbean deathwatch: Don’t fear the reaper! Or is that the phantom of the opera? UPDATE: The Comics Curmudgeon takes note of Lisa’s imminent passing, as well as that of one of Lynn Johnston’s characters. What is it, seasonal depression week in the funnies?

I haven’t written much lately about Britney Spears, because…well, “I haven’t written much about Britney Spears” just says it all, doesn’t it? It seems fashionable now to say one isn’t writing about Britney because she’s obviously a young woman in great pain, and blah blah blah, wish her well, blah blah blah rehab blah counseling blah to the blah. If I’m taking a keener interest in her this week, it’s because of this: She’s lost her kids, and she seemingly doesn’t care. The judge says turn them over by Wednesday, and she turns them over on Monday, then goes tanning, then gets a big hotel suite. Yee-haw, freedom! We all know, intellectually, there are mothers like this in the world, but it’s still sort of shocking to see one up close. I wonder if the hotel suite was a “Leaving Las Vegas” kind of deal.

Newsday’s Pulitzer prizes are sold at auction, but no one knows how they got there. Psst, whoever bought them: Melting them down in the only possible ending to this story.

Posted at 9:24 am in Current events, Media, Popculch, Television |

21 responses to “HBOver.”

  1. Bill said on October 3, 2007 at 9:30 am

    I checked out of HBO after Tony and friends ended. I’ll wait a while and catch The Wire on DVD.

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  2. Beth said on October 3, 2007 at 9:50 am

    So, Michael Crawford comes to take you to the other side. Who knew?
    Lisa dies tomorrow and then the strip skips forward 10 years.

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  3. brian stouder said on October 3, 2007 at 9:51 am

    Top officials at Newsday drilled into a safe at the paper’s Melville offices yesterday and found three gold Pulitzer Prize medals missing, prompting an investigation by Suffolk police.

    Drilled into their own safe? What?

    More than a dozen grafs later, we get (with emphasis added) –

    Carl DeMarco, Newsday’s revenue accounting manager, oversees the cashier’s office where the safe is located. The room, he said, is the most secure area of Newsday. Authorized employees used a passkey to enter the room and visitors must sign a logbook. Three cameras keep watch over the room, and only two people – DeMarco and the cashier supervisor, Maria Lahtonen – have access to the combination lock on the safe. [I love this punchline!!] The key to a smaller lockbox within the safe had been lost, and officials called a locksmith yesterday to drill into the smaller box.[hahahahahah!!]

    DeMarco said that while some of the safe’s contents, such as petty cash and Newsday gift cards, are routinely catalogued, there was no regular check to see whether the Pulitzers were present.

    This is so stupid/funny, that I believe it. DeMarco is probably gonna get demoted (if not de-fired), because he was more concerned with losing track of the $140 (or whatever) in petty cash, and the $20 gift cards, than he was about the Pulitzers!!

    (ps – my bet is that if all those cameras and visitor logs can be checked for the last time anyone knew where the key was, they will have their culprit!)

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  4. LA mary said on October 3, 2007 at 10:02 am

    I’ve very very close to cancelling my HBO as well. My son like Flight of the Conchords, and occasionally I find a movie worth watching, but they keep replaying garbage like “Take the Lead.” Bill Maher has become so unfunny he doesn’t even laugh at his own jokes as much as he used to. Give me Dog Whisperer, Meerkats and Alton Brown. One thing on HBO has been great lately. James Gandolfini on Alive Day. Did you see it? I made my sons watch it. The woman with the red hair made me cry.

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  5. nancy said on October 3, 2007 at 10:23 am

    “Alive Day” was good, but it was a one-off. “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” was just ponderous. I have hope for “Six Days,” or “Five Days,” or however many days. But the Sunday-night heart of the lineup appears as empty as Britney’s head. But “The Wire” is a must-see for me this season, so they’re cool until March, at least.

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  6. ellen said on October 3, 2007 at 10:35 am

    Our cable company is raising the rate for HBO, Showtime, Cinemax to $19.95 apiece per month. Not sure how they expect to keep us subscribed to the premium channels.

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  7. derwood said on October 3, 2007 at 10:42 am

    My current favs are the Showtime shows…Weeds, Californication, and Dexter. I miss Six Feet Under. I have all the movie channels cuz our lovely Comcast prices their packages in such a way that it cost me as much to have just HBO as it does to have them all. I’m a sucker I guess.


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  8. colleen said on October 3, 2007 at 11:53 am

    Love Big Love, or I might go the way of Derwood.

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  9. ashley said on October 3, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    Looks more like a Guy Fawkes mask to me. Maybe they’re going to bomb the houses of Parliament in the afterlife.

    Mary, I still like Alton Brown, but his last series just pissed me off.

    My HBO choice is exactly like Nance’s. They better give me a really good reason to keep it after “The Wire” is gone. And it ain’t boxing, it ain’t “curb your enthusiasm” any more, it ain’t entourage, it ain’t Maher, and it ain’t 2 year old movies.

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  10. MichaelG said on October 3, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    I totally agree, Ashley. Alton has gotten a bit too full of himself but “Eats” is still watchable. Food Network has done everything in their power to destroy all that made it an enjoyable place to go. They’ve canned Mario and Flay (except for Iron Chef). Even poor Emeral is nothing but a husk of his insufferable self. La Ray has worn me out. The rest are dying out and posing in awful specials. Please, don’t show me Paula Deen’s poor pickled husband. And that horrid woman who cooks out of cans. They dropped Bourdain and then hired a dipshit do do the same job. There’s nothing left but their stupid specials and bogus competitions. Nothing real about cooking, or eating or the love of food. I guess nothing’s forever.

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  11. LA mary said on October 3, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    Interesting. We all agree on the food network. Good Eats is informative enough to keep watching, but Alton is getting on my nerves. Paula Deen is a caricature, and the semi homemade junk really annoys me. Rachel Ray’s voice makes my teeth itch. Barefoot Contessa is sort of nostalgic to me. I know her part of Long Island and some of the great vegetable and fruit stands in that part of the world. Iron Chef is good, but they should have Cat Cora on more often.

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  12. Connie said on October 3, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    We originally got HBO for one reason: Boxing. We keep HBO for one reason: Boxing. My daughter has known all the big names in boxing since childhood, from years of watching boxing with her Dad. Is it a sport?

    I have to keep my cable service level high enough to keep In Demand and my DVR Box. Between all of that and cable broadband my Comcast bill is near $150 a month. Eeeck. Did I tell you my kid is going to a very expensive college?

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  13. brian stouder said on October 3, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    Paula Deen is the only person I’ve ever seen melt butter in a pan before frying her bacon!

    I sorta like the contessa; the question always is – how many bottles of wine will she come back with, when she makes the run to the package store

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  14. LA mary said on October 3, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    Just the thought of paying for college throws me into an anxiety attack. I went to a private university and managed to pay my own way through. Same university is now more then ten times as expensive.

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  15. Carmella said on October 3, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    I saw Paula make fried butter balls once!!! She took butter….rolled it in a ball…coated it in something (more butter??)…AND THEN FRIED IT!!! ps Emeril is HUGE lately!

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  16. ashley said on October 3, 2007 at 8:07 pm

    A friend of mine has a fantasy: Paula Deen in a hot tub filled with clarified butter.

    Now if they would just ‘adjust’ Giada’s wardrobe…

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  17. joodyb said on October 3, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    me too connie. on everything. pavlik alone was worth it. go bohunks. and my bill is just like yours!

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  18. joodyb said on October 3, 2007 at 10:36 pm

    oh, except for the expensive college part. sigh.

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  19. basset said on October 3, 2007 at 11:27 pm

    >>when she makes the run to the package store

    now there’s some Indiana language.

    here in Tennessee it’s just a liquor store… and my regular is the one George Jones drove his riding mower to after Tammy took his car keys so he wouldn’t get on the road drunk.

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  20. brian stouder said on October 4, 2007 at 7:58 am

    In his early (early) days, Lincoln worked at/owned a ‘grocery’, which in frontier days was a euphemism for ‘bar’. iiirc, Judge Douglas hit him with that a few times in the 1858 debates

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  21. Stephanie said on October 4, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    I, too, am dissapointed with HBO. Sunday nights are the only nights I tend to watch, because of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” But lately, my boyfriend has been playing Halo 3 and it doesn’t seem worth the energy expenditure to make him stop so I can catch the tepid “Tell Me You Love Me” and the little half-hour slash of somewhat funny, somewhat annoying Larry David. It’s all about Showtime, now. I only care about Weeds.

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