Tuned In

Tell Me You Love Me Watch: "Oh, My God! TiVo!"

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They’re not just kids; they’re human shields. Doug Hyun / HBO

What’s more destructive to a relationship? Is it infidelity? Is it children? Or could it be… TiVo?

If TV, after all, is the perfect tool for conversation-avoidance for a troubled couple, then TiVo promises to raise the medium to new heights of efficient, commercial-free, on-demand conversation avoidance. And in perhaps the perfect marriage of technology, theme and demographic, that magical little box intruded into the stories of two of TMYLM’s upscale couples. (Jamie and the absent Hugo, I’m guessing, prefer iTunes downloads.)

There was Carolyn, for instance, in an effort to not-talk to Palek after that bout of angry trying-to-conceive sex, wielding the peanut-shaped wand of silence. “Can we watch a movie? Can it make us cry?” And then launching the wand into action. Boo-boop. Boo-boop. Boo-boop!

I found myself more engaged with Carolyn and Palek’s story this time around, maybe because of a stronger performance from Adam Scott. Palek can be a heel, we’ve seen, as when he selfishly blurted out that he and Carolyn were trying to conceive, at the “game night” party. But he’s also charming (as when he wheedled Carolyn into going out in the first place), and it was good to get a sense of what she sees in him in the first place.

Their post-fight sex scene, by the way, was another example of why the shtupping in TMYLM, while not sexy, is a storytelling device. If you’d had a standard TV cutaway when they started to lay back on the couch, you’d have thought they were having makeup sex. What you saw instead was a battle–Palek, feeling ambivalent and harassed, pumping fiercely into her, Carolyn staring him down, glaring red-faced, dissolving into tears. If there’s an opposite of makeup sex, this was it.

The show still belongs to Dave and Katie, though. The scene of Dave letting his daughter pick out purple lingerie for Katie’s anniversary gift was excruciating (as was her opening it in the restaurant, and his expression as she did), but it was also revealing, and even funny. (Watching TMYLM a second time, it’s funnier than I remembered it, if not in a ha-ha Pine Barrens kind of way.)

There’s something willfully infantile about Dave and his relationship to the kids–a grown man ought to be able to tell his 10-year-old daughter that it’s his job to pick out Mom’s anniversary present. Instead, he capitulates, seemingly to spare his daughter’s feelings–“You think this looks like Mommy?”–but really to protect himself. By letting her make the decision, he’s shunting the fallout onto her, which is a way of dodging all the implications of the dreaded no-sex anniversary.

Speaking of which: if you’re bringing the kids along on your anniversary dinner, you have problems, don’t you? Seeing this scene the first time, I had the reaction I bet a lot of other viewers did: just get a freaking babysitter, get some grown-up dinner and some grown-up nooky and move on! But it’s not as simple as that. Becoming parents may have helped push Dave and Katie apart–as I wrote in this column, they’re obviously exhausted by their hands-on parenting but would feel guilty about reclaiming time for themselves. But their involvement with their kids has also become a way of distracting themselves from their problems with each other. They’re not just kids; they’re human shields.

When Dave and Katie get each other alone, though, as they have to eventually, things get more unpleasant. Dave unwraps his own present from Katie–it’s TiVo!–and then sits down on the bed with his wife, who complains she has “steak hair,” says she should take a shower and waits imploringly for him to tell her to stay. Which he doesn’t.

“I love you, honey.” “But what?” Again, Walker and DeKay blew me away in this scene: her clumsy but earnest attempts to force their issues out into the open, his shutting down and pretending that he has no idea what she’s talking about. Katie’s gaze–those darting, anxious eyes–shifting from need to disappointment to something that’s not quite hate but is definitely in the same zipcode. Her silent, injured retreat to the bathroom. His quiet, confused retreat into himself, sitting at the end of their marriage bed. Staring at the TV.