On ''Tell Me You Love Me,'' Carolyn helps Palek with his fertility test but is unhappy with the results; meanwhile, David buys the wrong anniversary gift, and Jamie hates single life

By Karen Valby
Updated September 24, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Doug Hyun
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”Tell Me You Love Me”: The fertility test

Yowzers, now that’s an opening scene. Carolyn, that little minx, was talking dirty to Palek on her headset in the car while looking distractedly for her literal turnoff. He got so caught up in her rote fantasy that on the brink she had to remind him, in jugular-cutting form, that his job is not actually to give her an imaginary pearl necklace but to get the damn sample in the cup so the doctors can once and for all prove that his swimmers are subpar. Oh dear, she is just not softening yet, is she? Thank you, thank you, Cynthia Mort, for bringing such an unapologetically mean woman to HBO. Carolyn is angry and hard and ready to strike. But she’s never been reduced to something as simple as ”the bitch.” She is literally my favorite person to watch on TV right now, for the simple fact that she is terrifying and strangely endearing and so incredibly f—ed up. When Palek reported back that his sperm is in superb form — unaffected by the ”worldwide sperm crisis” — she looked practically hobbled by the news. ”I’m thrilled, I’m thrilled,” she told him, her face frozen in a Joker-like smile. ”Congratulations,” she said, as if he had just bested her in an ultimate-fighting match-up. It must be her fault, you bastard, that they’re not pregnant.

Something weird happened this episode. I caught myself laughing a few times. Usually, I’ve got a cringe on my face, or my head is cocked and eyes squinted, or I’m trying to convince my bored husband that no, in fact, the show’s picking up steam and it’s not as slow or boring as the few scenes he’s watched have led him to believe. There were a couple genuine chuckles this week, which is really what TMYLM has been lacking. I got a nice smirk when Carolyn looked eye-rolly and impatient during phone sex. (Yes, yes, you have a big penis.) Later too, when Palek said the two should go to their friends’ house for game night. She looked as if he’d suggested anal for the evening. ”Game night? I hate game night.” Oh, Carolyn, a woman after my own soul, you just hate enforced fun. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing she also hates karaoke, theme parties (the worst!), and secret-Santa rituals. Palek wanted in though, so she relented with an amused passing shot. ”Could we win at least, because we never win….If that Saskia buzzes me, I’m going to f—ing punch you.” Ah yes, a night of Taboo, the absolute best, most aggressive, most infuriating, most satisfying board game going. (A Valby family holiday tradition.) And forgive me for this, but I got an uncomfortable little laugh when guest star Jeremy London popped up on screen during game night, his face all a-bloat. The writers then had the nerve to sic him with this opening line: ”Has anybody noticed? I lost six pounds for the reunion.” Embarrassingly low blow here, but you maybe should have lost another six when you booked this gig.

But the great laugh of the episode came at Katie and David’s anniversary dinner, which they tragically invited the kids along to. Earlier in the episode, David and their tween daughter went shopping in the mall for Mom’s anniversary present. David suggested a fug purse, but Isabella dragged him into the intimate section, steering him clear of the sea of granny panties and sherbet-colored terry-cloth robes. Voilà, she said, settling on a purple and black push-up teddy. Poor David looked faint. This creepily omniscient kid sees everything, and she knows that the rhythm is all wrong on the home front. So later at dinner, Bella said Dad got Mom the perfect present, and let’s open it at the table. When Katie unwrapped her gift, expecting a new pair of Crocs or a foot-relaxer tub, she looked physically shocked — that was five stupefied wows she let loose — by the boned lingerie that flopped menacingly in the air. ”What is it?” asked their confused little son, looking bleary eyed and drunk in the face of all that lace. ”Pajamas, honey,” said Katie. Funny!

NEXT PAGE: Angry sex and a lap dance

See, we need these laughs, these moments of reprieve from all the tension, to gird us against all the growing fissures. Palek spilled at game night that they’re trying; Carolyn repaid him with an announcement about his sperm quality. They later had rabid, rageful sex, and Carolyn warned that ”angry sex, angry baby.” But her sexy beast was tamed for the night, and she asked Palek in bed if they could watch a movie. ”Can it make us cry?” she pleaded, childlike. Oh, bless her, she only can be made vulnerable by movies like Steel Magnolias or the goofy, outdated chick lit on her night table, The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing. (Prop stylist, you’re years off with that pick.) Palek dared muck up her mood by wondering what they would do if they didn’t get pregnant. Dude, she’ll eat you raw if that happens, so just put on a nice romantic comedy and sneak into the closet to call May and make another appointment!

Katie and David, reeling from news that another pair of friends is splitting up, got through their anniversary by keeping the kids close and escaping any awkward attempt to connect by laughing off the teddy and burying their heads in TiVo. Their anger and disappointment in each other is coming to a head, and Katie continued to emerge as every bit Dave’s equal in avoidance. Steak hair, my foot.

And Jamie — apparently Hugo really was just a guest star — threw herself into that initial sad burst of proactive energy that any newly single person goes through by calling up all of her friends in a desperate attempt to not spend a minute alone. In a nice move, Jamie’s friend came over with a bottle of booze to cheer her up, and it was Mason, Carolyn’s less interesting, actually bitchy sister. Kudos to Cynthia Mort and company — this was the first time the couples have intersected, and it was done in smooth, unshowy fashion. Mason insisted Jamie needed to anesthetize with sex and dragged her to a strip club, the dopiest, most unbelievable strip club ever, where the girls were all model-sexy, with waify little boobs and hip lingerie. Puh-leeze. Jamie got a lap dance — got to pull in the 18-to-35 male viewers, dontcha know — and tipped generously. Lame.

The therapist continued to reveal herself as the most erotic of the bunch. I admit, when your sole experience with seeing old people go at in movies and TV is Diane Keaton squealing and crying after Jack Nicholson flings her bra into the air, it’s a shocker seeing an elegant 60-something saying to her equally ravenous husband, ”F— me.” But bravo, Tell Me You Love Me. And not because it’s the noble or correct thing to do, but because it’s a bracing, provocative view. Jamie would flinch at the sight, envisioning her mother. Carolyn would raise her eyebrows in her inimitable derisive way, evaluating their wrinkling flesh. And poor Katie would simply sigh, stunned that she has lived her whole life without ever feeling comfortable enough to ask anyone to do the same to her.

So, is news of the low ratings true? Are any of you still watching? Did you all get a couple laughs this episode, and do you agree that more dashes of humor are what this show needs? Do you like or loathe Carolyn? And, on a random note, who was that Bobbi Brown-look-alike friend at the party talking with Katie and Sherry Stringfield’s character? Where do I know her from?

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Tell Me You Love Me

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