Relationship counseling may often be helpful, but it's rarely fun. Turns out watching it ain't so great either.
The 10-episode HBO series Tell Me You Love Me has come to DVD, and it's brought its baggage. The series concerns therapist May Foster (Jane Alexander) and three pairs of clients. There's 40-something Katie (Alley Walker) and David (Tim Dekay) whose marriage has become sexless; 30-something Carolyn (Sonya Walger) and Pelek (Adam Scott) who've unsuccessfully been trying to conceive; and 20-something Jaime (Michelle Borth) and Hugo (Luke Kirby) whose marriage plans are in tatters over issues of fidelity. Each of these relationships go through dramatic twists and turns as the series unfolds from who's enthusiastic or reluctant to attend therapy, to changed life goals, to revelations about past transgressions and their aftereffects.
Going through therapy is a grim and depressing grind for the participants and the viewer. All of these couples' bonds are severely tested, and the viewer is dragged into each fight and frustration. Every awkward moment in Kate and David's bed, every time Carolyn cries after urinating on a pregnancy-test strip, every argument between Jaime and everybody else in Jaime's life, it's all there. There's also the therapy sessions which frequently devolve into silence and stares all around. Breaking up all this is graphic and gritty but decidedly unsexy fornication by everybody but Kate and David. Before the series runs its course, one may be fast forwarding through the umpteenth copulation between Carolyn and Pelek, Jamie and whoever she's with that episode, and May and her husband Arthur (David Selby).
Tell Me You Love Me utilizes handheld cameras, natural lighting and minimal makeup to provide a gritty realism to the whole affair. The acting is generally very good and often exceeds the thin characters and stilted dialogue.
This 10-part series is divided onto four discs stored snuggly in a two-tray digipak. The discs sport an incredibly irritating menu that repeats the same handful of complaints and accusations from the characters across every disc.
The 1.78:1 image is enhanced for widescreen display. The series appears to be shot with high-definition video cameras, and generally looks fairly sharp.
Subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish. The subtitles appear appropriately sized, paced, and placed.
English 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital mixes are available as well as a 2.0 Spanish dub. The audio mixes all sound rather good with no noticeable dropouts or distortions.
Four of the episodes include audio commentaries: one from each pair of actors playing the three principal couples, and one from series creator and writer Cynthia Mort. Because the actors had very little interaction with the other couples, they're often left with little to say when the scenes focus on the other storylines. If Mort had been present for all the commentaries, they'd likely have been considerably stronger.
The only other extra of note are optional "previously on" summations of prior episodes. For viewers watching this DVD set sequentially, these recaps will be unnecessary.
Watching Tell Me You Love Me is a brutal slog not worth undertaking. The Sopranos demonstrated that marital strife, therapy, and sex can all be interesting elements in a television drama, but here we learn they aren't sufficient in themselves. Unfortunately, series creator Cynthia Mort seems to have forgotten or never learned that a good dramatic series provides viewers with a reason to keep coming back episode after episode. Watching Tell Me You Love Me is a chore best skipped.