Charlie Saxton, Gregg Henry
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All photos © HBO
Reviewed by Will Harris
o say that it was a disappointment to lose FX’s “The Riches” after a mere two seasons is an understatement, but looking for a silver living in the situation is decidedly easy in retrospect: it freed up the show’s creator, Dmitry Lipkin, to create “Hung” for HBO. If it wasn’t clear before that Lipkin finds enjoyment in taking the traditional nuclear family unit and turning it on its ear, it certainly is now.
“Hung” introduces us to Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane), a high school history teacher and basketball coach in Detroit, Michigan. Ray seems to be a nice enough guy, but he’s struggling. He’s divorced with two kids, and wants them to live with him, but his public school salary is barely enough to make ends meet as it is, and when a fire guts the majority of his house, things really start looking grim. Ray starts considering his options, wondering if he possesses any talent or ability that might enable him to make more money. As it turns out, he does, and it’s been right in front of him the whole time…literally. That’s right: Ray’s packing some serious heat in his boxers, and it occurs to him that, by God, there are women out there who’d be willing to pay for the opportunity to experience Not-Very-Li’l Ray firsthand.
Enter Tanya (Jane Adams), an occasional poetry teacher – you know, when the school’s budget allows – who crosses paths with Ray and offers her assistance as his, well, let’s not mince words: she’s his pimp. Ray and Tanya had a close encounter in the past, so she knows of his gift below the belt and presumes that her existing creativity will prove sufficient when it comes to marketing his wares, such as they are. The result: a company named Happiness Consultants. These two clearly deserve each other, as Ray hasn’t thought much beyond the simple equation of “size of member = pleasure of woman.” The combination of their mutual inexperience in the field of prostitution leads to some extremely funny material.
There are some definite similarities between “Hung” and “Breaking Bad,” given that both series revolve around a father who finds himself in a tough spot and decides that he’s got to do whatever it takes to make sure his family’s well-being is covered. The twins, Damon (Charlie Saxton) and Darby (Siano Smit-McPhee), don’t always know what to make of their dad, and now that the fire has put him in a position where he’s sleeping in a tent in the yard, they definitely aren’t complaining quite as much about staying with their mom, Jessica (Anne Heche). Still, as the season progresses, things begin to change at Jessica’s house, as her husband, Ronnie (Eddie Jemison), seems to be battling through some financial woes. Fans of “The Riches” will definitely enjoy the skewed sensibilities of “Hung,” and it helps that Lipkin has corralled a few of that series’ stars for occasional roles, most notably Gregg Henry, who plays Ray’s fellow basketball coach, Mike. (Margo Martindale also turns up as one of Ray’s early customers.)
Make no mistake, however: “Hung,” while containing arguably just as much in the way of character study material, is definitely far more of a comedy. It also contains much less sex than you’d expect from a series revolving around a guy with a big dick (c’mon, haven’t we passed the point where I need to dance around the issue?), and when Ray first starts his new endeavor, it’s a pretty funny affair to see him try to woo his women. It isn’t until he crosses paths with Jemma (Natalie Zea), a client whose interest in seeing Ray is decidedly complex, that he (and we) begin to realize just how emotionally multifaceted his work can get. As the season progresses, there’s also a recurring storyline with Tanya’s friend, Lenore (Rebecca Crescoff), who starts as a one-off client, then begins to bring some of her own clients to Ray, finally reaching point where, well, we shouldn’t give away all the secrets of “Hung,” now, should we?
Those who consider themselves somewhat prudish will be understandably hesitant to check out “Hung” when they first hear of its premise, but it’s a really funny show with well-developed characters and a heart as big as, well, you know.
Special Features: For a two-disc set, HBO has done pretty well at providing bonus material. The set contains three audio commentaries from Lipkin, fellow creator/executive producer Colette Burson (a.k.a. Mrs. Lipkin), and writer Brett C. Leonard, two featurettes (one’s a backstage look, the other’s about the women in Ray’s life), and a few minutes worth of Ray and Tanya’s video ads for Happiness Consultants, which are pretty darned funny.