HBO News Blog

Sensitive Skin – A She Said/He Said Perspective

By Eleonora Iafano on Sep 8, 2014 to HBO News

hbo_canadaIn an unprecedented posting two of our contributors from Canada remark on a show exclusive to HBO CANADA.

Eleonora Iafano – HBO Canada recently released a series called “Sensitive Skin.” Three of Canada’s most prominent actors star in it: Kim Cattrall, Don McKellar and Colm Feore. This is a series about a couple who have been married for over 30 years, and the challenges of downsizing and trying to adapt to a new lifestyle.

Kim Cattrall portraSSPoster1ys a 50 something woman named Davina Jackson. Davina has recently sold her house and downsized to a trendy loft style condo. Davina is also taking hormone replacement therapy, because it makes her feel better about herself, physically (although there are many health risks associated with prolonged use). A little more background information is needed about Davina: she has been married to Al Jackson for over 30 years, she has one son named Orlando (who is quite blunt in his own right) and she works in an art gallery. She used to be a model. She has a very selfish sister and status driven brother in law. She also thinks about her appearance, her lifestyle and her life choices.

The first warning bell is when she states “I’ve been married to Al for over 30 years. We have a vintage jag. I can’t leave that.” So, you wouldn’t leave your husband because the amount of years with him and the fact that you have a luxury car. That does not sound like a barrel full of wedded bliss to me.

Jason GodfreyAfter 30 years of marriage, it is apparent that Al is desperately seeking attention from his wife who is slowly checking out of the relationship because she’s lost in her mid-life crisis and even escapes reality to a delusion in each episode. He always keeps her up-to-date with his career from why he’s listening to Anne Murray to his brushes with fame on Mary’s talk show or the project that Robert Ringwald has him on.  This all happens while Davina feigns interest. She doesn’t listen to his interview on the talk show, but instead listens to him explain how it went. He takes part in her gallery events and even makes an attempt to cheer her up after the death of her mother by having a wall painted to liven things up. While, that effort may have been sexually motivated (doctor’s orders, of course) it was more effort than Davina has made the entire season.

EI: The series also examines the idea of dealing with sexual temptation when you’re a woman over 50. Davina has her share of chances: a successful author hits on her, a piano teacher does more than flirt with her and then most shockingly, her uptight brother in law professes his love for her. While Davina is a very attractive woman and puts herself together very stylishly, the fact is that two out of three times, she was clearly attracted to the men that hit on her. She seemed to be very repelled by her brother in law. I don’t blame her in that regard.SSCoupleWine1

But what is going on in her head? Why isn’t she attracted to her husband anymore? Why is she feeling unfulfilled and why does she feel the need to avoid her husband, get high as a replacement and give into temptation? All the trips to the hairdresser, the hormone replacement therapy and so called piano lessons spell out denial. She also has these little delusions, in which she talks to herself about what her life has become, with the only characters who listen and respond are dead people. Not good. Davina is bored with her life, doesn’t want to be married to Al anymore and feels stuck in a rut. Eventually, she leaves Al. When a relationship ends after so many years, there’s bound to be emotional carnage. 

JG: If seeing Davina with another man wasn’t enough for his heart to handle, the reality of their break-up setting in among the stress of the rest of the last episode led to his cardiac arrest. In the hospital, he finally got Davina’s full attention. They hit a bump in the road, but she still showed she still cared. He lightened the mood by saying that he now has something relatable to write about. Despite the doctor’s opinion that Al was going to be completely fine, the final scene has Davina running out of Al’s room as his heartbeat monitor lets out a long flat-line beep.

EI: As a woman in her 30s watching this series, I feel that Davina is lost. Here is a woman who has a husband who dotes on her and he has a successful career SSDavina1and has a son who is healthy. I would have thought that selling a large house and moving into a trendy loft condo would have been good, both financially and socially. At that stage in her life, I thought that Davina should have been out in the world, trying new things with her husband and also on her own. It’s always good to try new experiences and never stop learning. Marriage is the hardest thing that anyone has to go through (parenthood is probably harder, but I have yet to experience that). With marriage, not only do you end up in a partnership, you have to start thinking of the other person’s needs and wishes before your own. You have to keep things interesting. You have to appreciate your spouse. Believe me, there are days where it can be tough, especially when you have an argument. Then, there are days when your spouse is the best thing that ever happened to you. You have to love unconditionally, accept the good times and the bad. But before things get so bad, there’s always a point where both people need to reach out to each other and try. Try to mend fences. Try to compromise. The point is, to try. For Davina, after managing to mend the fence, it was too late. Al dies and it leaves her shattered and heartbroken.

JG: This series is a good blend of drama – dealing with issues of a marriage running stale, death, image and life changes – and comedy. Kim Cattrall has said that when she approached Don McKeller about Sensitive Skin that she believed that he would be perfect for the part of Al. I couldn’t agree more. His role was expertly played because he brought both dignity and respect to a character that could easily be played as a tool for comedic relief instead of the crucial piece of the puzzle. Each of the episodes were directed by Don McKeller as well and even thouSensitiveSkin_Titlecardgh I felt awkward by his choice of camera placement for the opening scene, I do understand the intention was to make Davina look small as she asks for hormones from the pharmacist. She seemed more child-like the way this was shot, but judging by her decisions later in the season, it probably wasn’t as inaccurate as it first seemed.

EI: After watching the entire series, I feel a mixture of pity and empathy for Davina. I feel pity because she is a woman who is lost and searching, but for what I know not. I also feel empathy for her because I have seen and known people like her who have gone through separation and divorce. Life has its’ shares of ups and downs. The best of times and the worst of times should make you want to hold on to that love, because that’s what helps us humans get through life. This series was funny and poignant at the same time, because it examines love, long after the bloom is off the rose.

  • Jennifer Weissman

    Look for seminal books like Esther Hardings ‘The Way Of All Women’ Betty Friedan’s ‘The Femine Mystique’ Gail Sheehy’s ‘Passages’ to name a few.

    What is disconcerting is your ‘Buck Up’ attitude. Finger waging ‘Work harder’ and ‘don’t cheat’ while a women’s world is hormonally turned upside down in her 50’s facing depression, loss and loneliness. ” Who am I?” “Where do I go from here” not matter what state her marriage is in. They don’t call it a ‘crisis’ for nothing.
    Marriages are challenging & rewarding and wonderful but your simplistic view of this show & your lack of curiosity makes you a poor resource for publishing a qualified opinion. And frankly, a lazy one.

    I’m not angry Eleonora but saddened by what you wrote. This is brave original programming (bravo HBO) of unexplored territory for women , about women, being reviewed here by a corporate cheerleader. Your last sentence below reads like it’s out if a company manual.

    In your hands women protrayed on TV will remain as unrealized as they always have been & that’s something worth getting upset about.

    • Jef Dinsmore

      No it is not because it is only TV and you can take it or leave it. What counts in aiding with any issues is what is out in the real world not on the idiot box. Same goes for the viewpoints expressed here, ours and yours. In the end they are just opinions.

      In trying to follow your logic only women over 50 should watch SENSITIVE SKIN and be allowed to review it? It doesn’t work that way. The She Said/He Said Perspective means that the writers give a review from their viewpoint. What their ages are don’t matter and for reader to think before reading that the review should be written by someone over 50 or even versed in feminism or holding a degree in sociology, female health or whatever is a bad idea to have. By that logic only girls can review GIRLS and only people who have experienced great loss can review THE LEFTOVERS.

      Also you put a blanket, broad statement that all women over 50 are thinking of mortality. Maybe you are, but all women are not. And since when does every writer out there “get in touch with what it’s like to be HUMAN @ different stages of life.” The answer is none of them unless they are writing textbooks or are a professional writer attentive to research for their big tome.

      I, no we, have respect for your feelings for women equality and even the physiological changes in life (and no that is not from a company manual), but your opinion, no matter how close to home they may be for you, does not warrant devaluing the perspectives offered here. They expressed their views based upon their observations of the show as they see it from their perspectives and no one’s perspective is wrong. Again, not yours or our writers.

      Please continue your agenda and we will continue ours and we thank you for your stimulating debate (yes that last bit is from the manual.)

  • Eleonora Iafano

    Perspective is a funny thing; what you see and interpret, I may not agree with and vice versa. It’s all in the manner of your approach. Maybe some folks know that relationships are hard work; maybe some don’t. Not everyone has a disappointing experience after 30 years of marriage. Some couples actually have loving, healthy relationships and it doesn’t have to be all negative. Let’s consider that everyone is entitled to their own perspective and what I have written is my own. By no means is it a ‘one size fits all’ opinion. That is what I saw and what I interpreted while watching the show. Jason had another interpretation on it as a man. There’s nothing wrong with what we have both written. My name is spelled “Eleonora” – by the way. By all means, if you feel so strongly about this, expand on the subject matter and give specific examples on ‘adult development’ and ‘what it’s like to be human at different stages of life’ and then incorporate it into your take on the series ‘Sensitive Skin.’ Perhaps you could enlighten us with personal experience, seeing as how my perspective is “proof that it’s a man’s world supported by and maintained by naïve, brainwashed women, etc.” Your sentiments sound pretty harsh; bordering on being angry. All of us here at HBO Watch value viewer critiques and like to hear feedback. Feedback in a constructive, timely and respectful manner that encourages further discussion and proactive responses.

  • Jennifer Weissman

    This article and these writers POV’s are proof that it’s a man’s world supported & maintained by naive brainwashed women who have opted to just ‘work @ it’ slogans from Reader’s Digest & Good Housekeeping.
    Everyone knows, Eleanor “relationships are hard work” they are also about compromise & disappointment & after 30 years they stack up, big time. But that’s not what’s eating Davina in ‘Sensitive Skin’. Do some reading & research Eleanor, about adult development & you’ll find case book studies of what this character in her 50’s is dealing with. She is coming to terms with her MORTALITY!! She’s in a crisis In her delusions she’s not talking to Dead People, she’s talking to parts of herself. husband in ‘Sensitive Skin’ complete narcissist and a hypochondriac who is always broke and bumming money off his wife but because he still wants 2 have sex with her & he paints 1 wall in their loft apt RED JG thinks he’s a great husband. Instead of writing this crap why don’t you both get in touch with what it’s like to be HUMAN @ different stages of life should you be lucky enough to survive it. Or stick 2 writing about fantasy entertainment.

    • Jason Godfrey

      Please don’t confuse my empathy for anything else. I could have spent my time writing about Davina like most of the articles about Sensitive Skin, but Eleonora had that covered. Is the she sees the 100% truth about the way the world works? Nobody can make that claim because we have different perspectives.
      I chose to use my perspective to see things from Al’s point of view. Is he the perfect husband? I never said such thing. If painting one wall and being willing to have sex with a woman were the only criteria for the ideal husband, nobody would have to look far for “Mr. Right”.
      Take a look at the series, episode by episode, and you shall see that both characters face with the same issues but take a different approach to dealing with them. It’s not a gender thing. The roles could be reversed and it’d be the same story, but with different labels: Al would be pretentious, womanizing, and self-centered while Davina would be gold-digging, uptight drama queen. It doesn’t leave either side without fault.
      Any relationship, romantic or otherwise, has its share of challenges. A relationship doesn’t get to thirty years by ignoring these challenges and letting them stack up, especially given the era they’re married in.
      If we assume that the series takes place in 2014, that means the Jacksons got married in 1984. They survived the highest spike in divorce rates in 1987. That is no small feat on its own, considering they were in their 20s when they got married. Studies show that couples that get married in their 20s are more likely to have an irreversible breakdown in relationship than those that tied the knot later in life.
      Yet, we know very little about the history of the marriage between Al and Davina other than what we were given which wasn’t much compared to what we know about their lives before they met. Is the mid-life crisis that they’re both experiencing the “straw that broke the camel’s back”? Maybe, but trimming the article down to “proof that it’s a man’s world” not only is an irrelevant comment but is a slap in the face of anyone, woman or man, that has struggled against discrimination or oppression.

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