In what might be crudely described as the arrival with a vengeance of the penis on television, HBO's attempt to salvage its ratings plummet from the brilliant but disastrous “John From Cincinnati,” the season premiere of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and the series premiere of “Tell Me You Love Me” on Sunday, September 9, 2007 prominently foreground the taboo male organ. Serendipitously, Wayne State University Press has recently re-released Peter Lehman's seminal study, “Running Scared: Masculinity and the Representation of the Male Body,” for that excellent book's 15th anniversary. The tone of the two shows could not be more different. In “CYE,” Larry David tries to mine queasy comedy out of the eating of an erotic cake shaped like a black man's genitalia, much to the chagrin of his African-American houseguests, the Blacks, refugees from a Katrina-like hurricane. In “TMYLM,” a woman who desperately wants to get pregnant, stimulates her husband to orgasm with her hand, examining the resultant semen, studying the fluid as if she can eyeball its sperm count. The graphic nature of these shows is clearly an industrial response to get viewers to watch salacious content unavailable on network TV. To wit, Showtime is also in on the act, with the surprising bitterness this season of the once funny “Weeds,” not to mention the death spiral sarcasm of its follow-up, “Californication.” However, in a culture founded on towns where lynched black men's genitals were captured as souvenirs, the eating of a penis pastry is not without its importance. For me, however, “TMYLM” wins the cake: the pilot is a veritable orgy of male crisis. One man hasn't had sex with his wife for a year (because he is gay?), while another younger man cannot emotionally commit to his fiance. The show is a brilliant examination of a world where the display of the penis papers over its complete uselessness. While one woman examines sperm-free ejaculate on her hand, another puts lotion on hers as protection against her creepy sexless husband. I hope somewhere Peter Lehman is licking his chops.
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