The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

WEEKENDER / Entertainment

September 5, 2007

HBO’s ‘Tell Me You Love Me,’ shocking, familiar

NEW YORK — Well, you think you’ve seen everything on TV. Then along comes HBO with “Tell Me You Love Me” to open your eyes.

On this spare-no-feelings drama about human relationships, brace yourself to see plenty — including yourself, reflected in ways that may feel painfully familiar and register more forcefully than you bargained for. My response after watching the full 10-episode season in just three sittings: “I am SO busted.”

I make no prediction how others will receive “Tell Me,” and in what numbers. But I see it as the most important drama HBO has introduced since “The Sopranos.”

Early reports about the series (premiering Sunday at 9 p.m. EDT) have dwelled on its graphic sex scenes. But the sex only underlines what “Tell Me” is really about. For most of each hour, the characters engage in an even more intense brand of explicitness: Their beyond-the-flesh struggle to preserve, or recover, some measure of intimacy with the partner each of them is committed to.

Which is to say there’s lots of talk going on, set against the relatably ordinary lives these people lead:

— Jamie, a 20-something restaurant chef (Michelle Borth), is betrothed to Hugo, a schoolteacher (Luke Kirby). Sexually, they can’t get enough of each other. But their squabbling takes over when they’re not in bed.

“Sex ruins everything,” pouts Jamie, blending insight with pettishness. “Good sex just hides everything that’s bad about a relationship.”

— Carolyn, a mid-30s on-the-fast-track lawyer (Sonya Walger), and her real-estate investor husband, Palek (Adam Scott), seem accomplished in everything they touch, including each other. Except, for a year, they’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant. Growing pressure and resentment will push their marriage to the brink.

— Katie, a 40-ish stay-at-home mom (Ally Walker), and Dave, her salesman husband (Tim DeKay), are terrific parents of two sweet kids. But they’ve stopped having sex. Neither of them is eager to explore why. Dave doesn’t even want to acknowledge any problem.

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WEEKENDER / Entertainment
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