September 19, 2007
Back when I was growing up TV shows that featured married couples were all about love and not sex, and now with the advent of the fall season, TV relationships are all about sex and not love.
Remember on "I Love Lucy" that somehow baby Ricky was conceived on their network-mandated twin beds? You couldn't even say the word "pregnant" so the title of the episode of the good news was "Lucy is Enceinte." Take in contrast HBO's new series "Tell Me You Love Me" which delivers on its promise of hot and steamy sex scenes. The really interesting part of this new series, however, is not the graphic portrayal of sex, but the graphic portrayal of life, which is a sex buzz kill.
These married couples realize that gynecological fertility tests do not make you feel randy nor do days spent carpooling, feeding, bathing and putting the three children to bed make you hot and heavy by the time you hit the mattress.
It makes the modern male long for an earlier time such as in the new series on AMC "Mad Men," set in the '60s, where male virility is alive and well as long as the young wife and kids are home in the suburbs and the Madison Avenue tycoon with no domestic duties has plenty of energy for his wife and mistress. In both shows it is the women who speak the truth that something is wrong, and in each show it is a wife alone in couples therapy (with of course a therapist who is gettin' some).
"Sex and the City" extended into six seasons by ultimately denying its characters a fulfilling long-term relationship. Writers for the show used to joke that they didn't even want to come into a morning meeting with a story of a great date, let alone a proposal (no married women wrote for the show). Candace Bushnell's new foray into TV, "The Lipstick Jungle" does include married women but often it is their husbands who now fall short as these big time career women rule the roost. Having it all is no panacea – it just allows you a full time drive in Manhattan.
In an ironic twist, idealized love is only to be found on "Reality" TV. Here a young woman in a borrowed designer gown has dinner in an Italian Villa with an eligible bachelor descended from royalty. Their potential "Will you accept this rose?" sexual encounter is conducted with a hundred candles, rose petals, champagne and a Jacuzzi overlooking a full moon vineyard (cameras not invited). We are drawn into this situation exactly for the artifice. Love in real time would be boring. Goodness knows when we look back on our romantic pasts, we all could have used a good editor.
So in the Aristotelian equation of life imitating art imitating life, what do we really want when we settle in front of the television at the end of the day looking to be entertained? Do we want the dysfunctional so we can say, "Thank goodness that's not me. If I was Meredith Grey I'd be all over McDreamy. I mean what is she thinking?" Or do we want to see a fantasy? – "I wish that on a sex columnist's salary I could afford a brownstone and 30 grand worth of Jimmy Choos."
My guess is that we really don't want to keep it real when it comes to TV shows. If you're in bed next to your mate who you may or may not be in love with or may or may not be having sex with you don't necessarily want your truth up there on the screen (unless you're madly in love having sex all the time in which case you're not sitting there watching TV shows anyway).
It will be interesting to see which shows will find a loyal audience and which will fail and what that ultimately says about how we feel about "real love."
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