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.