By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
The show’s visual style is both off-the-cuff yet aesthetically pointed — natural lighting, hand-held camerawork, spare use of music (songs only at an episode’s end, no incidental score) — and suggests an uncompromising indie project while also conveying something quotidian and yet inherently vital about these people’s lives. It’s a welcome change of pace from the usually sleek, shimmering, big-budget look of HBO’s dramas, and recalls the way Ingmar Bergman adapted his cinematic soul-searching to the small screen to achieve an unfussy, probing and still visually striking richness for his you-are-there portrait of a crumbling union in Scenes From a Marriage.
Of course, a show like Tell Me You Love Me only works if the acting is strong, and in this regard it has hardly any problems — Scott’s Palek, in particular, is a quiet marvel of suppressed selfishness — but my guess is a lot will be made of the deep wells of hurt, confusion and sheer emotional dread that Walker and DeKay convey as Katie and Dave, and rightly so. They are the show’s most sympathetic duo. DeKay shows us Dave’s painful transition from outwardly sensitive husband to self-appointed victim who looks like he knows a car is going to hit him every day. And Profiler alum Walker, looking as believably drained by domesticity as I’ve seen any actress appear on television, may never be viewed the same way again: Her portrayal of a woman who knows what she’s lost but has no clue how to get it back — or if it’s even there to retrieve anymore — is as raw as a wound. Her inarticulateness in therapy is shattering, and at other times you’ll think Katie believes she’s in nothing less than a horror film.
Tell Me You Love Me is probably too frill-less and downbeat in tone to right HBO’s buzz-dissipating fortunes, even if it’s at least a step in the quality direction. Although it manages to be suspenseful about the journey of its jumbled characters, it is an unrelenting examination of the search for the hidden recipe of me, you and us that makes for a strong marriage, and that’s something you ultimately have to steel yourself for in a weekly series. When Dr. Foster proves to be unerring in her prediction of Dave’s first appearance in therapy, and shit gets aired that gouges him and Katie both, Dave breaks the pain with a sarcastic, “This is fun. I’m gonna make sure I come back.” You may not think of Tell Me You Love Me as fun, either, but I have a feeling that those with a taste for provocative, powerful human drama will consider it — forgive me — appointment television.
TELL ME YOU LOVE ME | HBO | Sundays, 9 p.m., premiere episode Sept. 9.
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