A tale of two couples therapists: Showtime strikes first with Laura Berman, while next week basic cabler TLC adds to its families-in-crisis motif with "One Week to Save Your Marriage," introducing its own blond "marriage mender." Give the decided edge to the pay channel, and not just because their infrared photography yields eerie glimpses of nudity.
A tale of two couples therapists: Showtime strikes first with Laura Berman, while next week basic cabler TLC adds to its families-in-crisis motif with “One Week to Save Your Marriage,” introducing its own blond “marriage mender,” Robi Ludwig. Give the decided edge to the pay channel, and not just because their infrared photography yields eerie glimpses of nudity.Perhaps inevitably, couples therapy of all varieties is gradually migrating from the weepy confines of daytime to primetime, filled as it is with voyeurism and cheap (literally) emotional drama that’s perfect fodder for unscripted TV. By now, people’s willingness to expose the most personal aspects of their lives is hardly surprising, though it is somewhat ironic given that a frequently cited problem is a lack of intimacy and willingness to share. Thinking of the participants’ family and friends who may tune in, it’s hard not to wish that everyone would share a bit less. Showtime’s entry presents Chicago-based sex therapist Berman — a recipient of the “ ’Oprah’ guest” seal of approval — who deals in a down-to-earth fashion with two or three couples within each hour. Produced by the brother tandem behind “Taxicab Confessions,” the series has a natural and realistic feel even when the role-playing and sex toys come out thanks in part to the average-looking couples, which keeps the titillation factor to a minimum. “Beverly Hills Bordello” this is not. Each couple meets with Berman together, then individually, before being assigned “homework” to address their sexual problems as well as broader issues plaguing their relationships. And when that doesn’t work, there’s always the remote-control vibrating panties. While the first hour proceeds slowly, the series improves considerably in the second and third installments, primarily due to more interesting (and in some cases horrifying) couples. One woman, Terel, virtually demands her own show, barking orders at her milquetoast husband and observing that their lovemaking may suffer because “I’ve had really well-endowed and really great lovers” — before insisting she never compares him to past boyfriends. (These two also get into a car accident on camera, triggering a stream of obscenities from Terel that approximates the Calamity Jane character on “Deadwood.”) “Sexual Healing” looks even better compared with TLC’s latest exercise in domestic discord, which joins the channel’s family-counseling rabbi (“Shalom in the Home”) and nutritionist (“Honey, We’re Killing the Kids”). “One Week” fits right into that mode — a facile, slightly preachy endeavor that inevitably ends with a “crunch time” decision on whether to stay together, as Ludwig breathlessly puts it, along with a trail of tears. While Showtime has labored to develop sizable audiences for original scripted series despite some breakthroughs in terms of awards and reviews, the pay net has reliably attracted viewers with latenight movies that always seem to have “Naked,” “Forbidden” or “Coeds” in the title. “Sexual Healing” provides a more thoughtful segue into that territory, proving that infrared lenses aren’t a prerequisite to shed light on a troubled marriage.