“Just the Tip”
June 27th, 2010
Like Cougar Town in the fall, Hung was a show in which some viewers and critics became hung up on its title and its initial premise to the point where they were unable to see the ways in which the show was something more than a dude with a large penis. Those of us who kept watching, and writing about, the show were considered outliers, those who were perhaps reading more into the series than was actually there. And as Hung returns for its second season, it does so in a way which makes us wonder if us outliers were wrong all along.
It’s not that “Just the Tip” is particularly bad, but rather than it feels particularly pointless: the plots in the episode feel either like continuations of first season stories or cliche-riddled story arcs which feel divorced from the social circumstances which created them. While there is meaning in the fact that the central image of Ray’s struggle, his fire-damaged house, remains fire-damaged, it also means that the show feels exactly like it did last summer, which is a problem on a show which seems like its stakes should be escalating rather than normalizing, and which makes me question just what this show wants to be.
“A Dick and a Dream or Fight the Honey”
September 13th, 2009
While we can argue back and forth on whether Hung’s ensemble were used to the degree that Nurse Jackie’s, or whether Thomas Jane could possibly stand up to Edie Falco in a direct comparison, I don’t think there’s any question that Hung had a far clearer sense of its own identity in its freshman season.
From beginning the end, the show was an investigation of these economic times we live in, portraying a potentially farcical concept (high school teacher turns prostitute) in a starkly realistic context. When we learn in the finale that 70% of the teachers at Ray’s school are getting laid off, only so that they can then re-apply and be denied the benefits they currently have, it feels like another drop in the bucket, and that’s the point: it’s not going to stop anytime soon, and whatever you can do to stay afloat is understandable if not particularly ethical.
As such, we find a finale where every single character is forced to make adjustments to who they believe they are in an effort to maintain this screwed up status quo, this realistic scenario wherein a poet becomes a pimp. Tying together quite marvelously nearly every single character, the finale depicts those moments where your attempts to alter your identity run head first into a brick wall, and how each character works to climb over top of it into a new stage in their life.
For some it’s almost too easy, and for others it’s going to prove a comic, dramatic, and engaging challenge.
“This is America or Fifty Bucks”
August 30th, 2009
More than any episode before it, “This is America or Fifty Bucks” lives and dies by the show’s timeliness in the midst of an economic crisis. With Jessica struggling to adapt to Ron’s newfound money problems, and Ray struggling to make money in order to rebuild his house, the show has always been dealing with the reality of the current economic situation.
But there has always been a problem central to Ray’s struggle: in dealing with such a high end prostitution ring, he’s trapped at a point where their clientele is shrinking. Lenore’s clients are rich women with no real sense of the value of money, but once you move beyond them we’re beginning to see the business of Happiness Consulting falling apart in the midst of these circumstances. In this week’s episode, we find both Ray and Jessica at a crossroads, and they find the exact same temptress waiting for them at the roadsign, beckoning towards a sense of luxury and self-worth while Tonya struggles to maintain a sense of normalcy in the midst of an almost absurd (when you step back) business relationship as best she can.
But America is changing, and normalcy is changing, and the status quo of the series is starting to fall out from underneath our characters as they start to fall in on one another – the result is a really intriguing leadup to the end of the show’s first season.
“Thith ith a Prothetic or You Cum Just Right”
August 24th, 2009
“I left a boy to marry a man.”
I’ve been enjoying Hung’s first season, and have especially enjoyed the recent series of episodes. Jemma’s entrance has given us a really intriguing point of view into how Ray’s new employment is changing his own life, and seeing a glimpse into Tonya’s home life last week was another example of the show trying to branch out beyond the show’s premise in order to tap into these characters at a deeper level. I don’t think anyone who has kept watching can truly claim that the show is even remotely about sex, or Ray’s penis, or any of those things.
But the one element of the show that I’ve had trouble reconciling with a lot of it was the question of Ray’s ex-wife: Anne Heche is a fine actress, but Jessica as a character is shrill and annoying, and any of the show’s attempts to garner sympathy for her has felt like a distraction. Her husband’s financial issues are not really Ray’s concern, and when the show veers into her life it just seems like she had nothing to add to this story.
I don’t think this week’s episode justifies the amount of time we’ve on occasion spent with her, but I do think that it more clearly puts her position into context. The past has always been a sort of unspoken part of this show: Ray has never really figured out why his wife left him, and it’s almost as if his present has been soul-crushing that he’s been stuck in it rather than looking either forwards or backwards. And now, in his new job, the past is irrelevant: there is still no past or future in the midst of his various encounters, and that’s something that he has absolutely no problem with. It’s when you start to play with emotions, the “mindfrakking” if you will, that things begin to reflect what Jessica saw as Ray’s lack of maturity.
And what I see as the show’s greatest accomplishment thus far.
“Doris is Dead; Are We Rich or Are We Poor?”
August 8th, 2009
When it comes to shows like Hung (and Showtime’s Nurse Jackie), I’ve begun to fall behind on my blogging – in fact, since the show’s pilot, this is the first time I’ve even written about Hung. I’ve likely dropped a few notes on Twitter, but at the end of the day there has been something about this show that has kept me from writing about it.
Part of it is that the two critics I respect the most, Alan Sepinwall and Todd VanDerWerff, are both reviewing the show on a regular basis – in most instances I like to add my own voice to the chorus, but when I’ve found myself quite busy I tend to only rush to get a review out if I have something to say that feels distinct and not just a general “here’s what happened, here’s how it fits into the show’s formula” post. They are both doing that and more each week, so if I don’t feel particularly inclined to post I’m far less likely to.
And that’s been the problem with Hung, really – I’ve never watched an episode that’s made me absolutely want to sit down and blog about it, which isn’t to say that I haven’t been enjoying the show. Rather, it seems like it took a while to really find itself, and to find the kind of storylines that felt less like Ray and the show searching out their identity and more like the show questioning both Ray and our own preconceptions about the premise. And while I think there were some solid episodes over the past few weeks, “Doris is Dead…” really hits home in terms of presenting a legitimately compelling (if expedient) scenario wherein Ray’s new employment is complicated in a way that feels both dangerous and complex.
Beginning with Jemma’s arrival last week, played for Comedy as Ray was forced to repeat the same experience over and over again, we got that scenario, and here we saw the show delve into equal parts sports cliche and complex sexual relationships in an effort to further emphasize just how problematic this new role could become for all involved.
June 28th, 2009
“Everything’s falling apart.”
Hung is not a show about an abnormally large specimen of the male anatomy.
Well, okay, technically it is, but that’s really not what the show is trying to tell us. While the new HBO “comedy” follows the exploits of high school basketball coach-turned male escort Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane), who happens to be particularly well endowed, its real focus lies less in what he’s doing than why he’s doing it, a common thread in shows that followed down on their luck characters taking drastic career moves (Breaking Bad, Weeds, etc.). What they choose to do may be a source of comedy for the series, but the legitimately intriguing elements come more from the scenario that drives him to that point.
And while this one may seem crude at first glance, it’s actually quite apt considering the show’s message. Set against the devolving urban landscape of Detroit, the show situates itself as a commentary on the death of the American dream (a note that Alan Sepinwall makes in his review of the show), and how one man chooses to sell a particular sexual fantasy as a replacement of sorts for the fantasy life he lost through a series of bad luck scenarios that mirrors the crises facing many modern Americans. For those who haven’t yet watched the show, this probably seems like a highly verbose justification for enjoying a show about a man with a big dick, but let me assure you: while the title may seem to refer to that part of the show at first, it is the way that Ray has been hung out to dry by life that it’s actually interested in.
For this reason, there’s more than enough substance to Hung for me to stick around – it’s not particularly funny for a comedy, sure, but what it lacks in laughs it makes up for with scale.