Season Pass Chat: Cable Appreciation Day

As a strong summer of cable programming transitions into the start of the fall broadcast season, Stuart Levine and Jon Weisman offer some thoughts about they’ve been watching:

Jon: How about we kick off our first Season Pass chat by talking about Sunday’s premiere of “Tell Me You Love Me.” I’m seeing a wide range of opinion on it; something tells me that this new HBO series could be the most polarizing program since … that last HBO series, “John From Cincinnati.” Tellme_2

I think the show teeters on the edge of self-pity and self-absorption, but I’m cautiously interested in its serious look at sex and relationships.

Stu: I completely understand that all the explicit sex is what will draw attention to it, but that’s short-selling the series. Creator Cynthia Mort is able to look at the underbelly of what makes relationships both thrive and then fall apart, and it’s the latter I find most compelling. These four couples seem awfully real to me.

HBO distributed the entire series at TCA this summer and I’ve watched the whole thing already — I figured it was a good time with summer programming not burdening my Tivo. Without giving anything away, as the series moves along, the sex loses its wow factor and the out-of-the-bedroom problems take become much more scintilating.

Madmen Jon: Just to get the newer primetime cable shows out of the way, “Mad Men” was far and away the king for me this summer. Each episode is not only entertaining in and of itself, each seems to open up whole new worlds to explore. The characters are incredibly rich. It’s a long way until next year’s Emmy nominations, but I sure hope “Mad” gets remembered.

HBO’s modest but clever “Flight of the Conchords” was my other summer favorite among the new shows (“Damages” seems to have forgotten to give Glenn Close anything interesting to do), while “Big Love” still doesn’t seem to get the credit for excellence that it deserves. It really evolved into so much more than its premise in season two. In many respects, it does very well what “Tell Me You Love Me” is aiming to do.

Stu: I completely agree with you on “Mad Men.” It captures 1960 so incredibly well, it’s scary. Props to the set and costume designers especially. “Sopranos” alum Matthew Weiner has entered into the David Chase-Aaron Sorkin-David Milch arena with this one.

I may be wrong but I don’t remember AMC renewing it for season two. Wonder what the holdup is? I know it’s critically beloved but I don’t think the ratings have been all that stellar. I’m sure it’ll be completely forgotten come Emmy time next year but no matter, it’s a gem.

I can’t go along on “Flight of the Conchords.” Very aware that some people just love it but I watched two episodes and didn’t get it. Maybe it’s me.

I’m really down on “Rescue Me.” Used to love it but it seems to have gotten away from Denis Leary and Peter Tolan. What started out as a terrific look at how 9/11 affected this particular group of fireman has turned into a bad comedy. Time to get back to what made it a draw in the first place. Rescueme1

Jon: I only committed to watching “Rescue Me” this season, so it doesn’t suffer from comparison for me. The thing I’ve noticed is it has the same problem “Party of Five” came to have toward the end of its run – an episode can be moving along smoothly, and then there’s one clunker of a scene or subplot that just knocks it off the rails. 

If it is serious at all about becoming more than a channel known mostly for movies, AMC simply has to renew “Mad Men.” Its value transcends ratings.

Stu: Agreed. Will be sorry to see both “Mad Men” and “Damages” come to an end. On the latter, FX’s most recent dramatic fare (“The Riches,” “Dirt”) haven’t really worked for me, but from the pilot, “Damages” had me hooked. Which makes me think: Can’t wait to see the final season of “The Shield” too. The Vic vs. Shane confrontation could make for a great payoff.

Jon: It’s going to be hard making time for all the high-quality cable shows along with the upcoming broadcast TV premieres, the increasing load of Oscar-contending movies and the baseball playoffs. It’d be nice to read a book once in a while, but duty calls.

Stu: A book… what’s that???

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  1. stefanie says:

    I discovered Mad Men this summer and thank god because there was nothing on. I would rather watch re-runs of CSI then the mindless shows I couldn’t escape from. I love Mad Men but I am not sure I will love it after the new fall shows will be out. It is a well done show and unexpectedly dark. I recommended it to people who had the same complaints about the summer line up(or lack of).
    My husband and I didn’t like the Tell Me You love Me. Not because it wasn’t an interesting and life like show but because it was too life like. I think when I watch TV or movies I want some Escapism. This show was too real and not just seeing all the “man parts” but it reflected situations a lot of couples are in. Who wants to watch their awkward and dismal relationships on TV?

  2. bokonon42 says:

    The couples in Tell Me You Love Me seem real enough, but then what? What’s going to be different about the baby-crazy woman who’s insensitive to her whiny husband’s needs? Or the young man who discovers, Chinese water torture slowly, that the way to get the woman he wants right now, is to lie about whether he expects her to be the last and only? The sexless couple has the potential, at least, of being something new. Unless the man is just cheating on her, then I’ve seen that before, too.
    Yes, there’s nothing new under the sun, but, at some point, there’s got to be some insight more daring than, “lying is bad,” for the show to be worth watching. Ground breaking flash of scrotum notwithstanding. It might help if every scene weren’t so aggressively unfunny.

  3. trainwreck says:

    After watching the first episode of “Tell Me You Love Me”, I find the show to be about honesty more than anything.
    The elderly couple so far appear to be the most honest and therefore have most successful relationship in the show. They seem to be a side story to the three main couples, probably because they represent what these three other couples hope to achieve.
    Then there is the middle-aged couple that already have a family. They seem to be the most loving couple of the three and they seem to genuinely love each other. The problem is that they cannot be honest about the problems in their marriage for fear that they will realize that they have to be apart. This couple seems to fear being honest with each other, because they seem to realize that marriage is not what they envisioned.
    There is the successful couple that are having problems getting pregnant. This couple is brutally honest with each other. But they put on a complete facade when it comes to others. They were completely incapable of even telling their therapist the truth and actually bother to help their marriage. I think their relationship is in the worst shape of all.
    Then there is the young couple that are engaged. So far, we really do not know much about this couple other than they have a lot of passionate sex. Which makes me think that they are completely dishonest with their relationship. In my eyes, they do not have a real relationship. They have a deep sexual attraction to one another and they do not seem to realize that is pretty much the extent of their relationship.
    Each relationship represents the couples place in society. The wise elderly couple that are mature and have been through all the ups and down and realize how to make things work so that they do not waste the rest of their lives. The middle aged couple that seem to realize that the American dream of being married with kids and having a house, may not be all it is cracked up to be. The totally superficial couple that seem to represent yuppie culture. They are so successful because they are so competitive and driven to individual success, which is why they seem to go therapy in separate cars and why they seem to blame each other for their inability to conceive. They want to portray this great image to the world, but inside they are very unhappy and unfulfilled. Then there is the young, naive couple that can’t seem to distinguish true love from passion.
    Obviously, sex represents each couple too. The elderly couple that have passionate sex where they really want to please one another and are very into it. The middle age couple that have no sex life. The yuppie couple that go from having passionate, spontaneous sex to the hand job that seemed so cold and distant and more like work than anything. And finally the young couple that have lots of hot and heavy, but seemingly quick sex.

  4. Jon Epstein says:

    Most banal blog EVER. Definitely last time I read this crap. Hey..Variety…hire some real writers!

  5. Wes Covington says:

    “Rescue Me” dropped off the face of the earth in my opinion this season. It used to be interesting to watch and after two or three episodes this year, I felt I was watching out of a sense of duty.
    On the other hand, I’ve read a lot more books.

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