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The New Season: 'Tell Me You Love Me' plays coy

July 12, 2007 |  5:54 pm


Tellme300 The creator and cast members of “Tell Me You Love Me,” HBO’s new relationship driven series, seemed strangely stiff and defensive at their TCA panel on Thursday.

Perhaps that was because they followed Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline who oozed loose-limbed Shakespearean cred (is Kline physically morphing into Peter O’Toole?) during their "As You Like It" pitch. But probably it was because all anyone in the room wanted to talk about was sex. And despite their repeated insistence that “Tell Me You Love Me” is an unapologetic and frank look at the various forms of intimacy between four couples, the people involved seemed very uncomfortable with sex as a topic.

“I am surprised that people keep pulling it out,” said creator Cynthia Mort.  “The sex was always in service to the intimacy. These are people in long-term relationships. It was never marginalized, it was never perverted.”

That may well be, but the sex in “Tell Me You Love Me”  is also quite graphic for television, so graphic that some of the questions swirling among many reporters focused on mechanics rather than intent. The intent of the show is, after all, quite clear — to show, in hyper-realistic detail, three couples in various forms of distress, including all the uncomfortable silences, small lies and abiding love. Interesting, but was that a real penis in the actress’ hand? And if they weren’t actually having sex in the scenes where genitalia was clearly exposed, how, exactly were they avoiding it?

“We’re not porn stars,” said Michelle Borth, with a slightly irritated laugh. “We’re actors. But in whatever scene you do your best to do it authentically and honest. We’re doing it to make you ask those questions.”

Okay, but what about prosthetics? In several scenes, including several involving the couples’ therapist, played by Jane Alexander for heaven’s sake, some sort of penis is up front and center — is it live or is it Memorex? “In some situations, you have to augment,” said executive producer Gavin Polone. But not in "Tell Me You Love Me"?

Like Mort, he seemed surprised, and irked, that anyone would even want to address the issue. “When do you see people that age in a love scene?” he asked, “That is more important than what Jane is touching or not touching.”

Well maybe, but to a certain extent the folks behind “Tell Me You Love Me” may be guilty of wanting to have their cake and eat it too. The show is provocative with a capital P. Certainly, it will also provoke conversations about the meaning of love and monogamy and the risks of parenthood, etc.  But if you are going to air a television show in which testicles wobble, you should not be surprised if there are a few questions about those choices too.

-- Mary McNamara

(Photo courtesy HBO)