HBO's male prostitute dramedy Hung is back on Sunday nights to once again follow along with Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane) as he deals with the trials and tribulations inherent in being a Detroit school teacher who can’t quite make ends meet. The collapsed economy and the sexual reawakening of his ex-wife Jessica (Anne Heche) have left him feeling useless and emasculated, and really, what better way to reclaim your manhood than to turn your genitalia into a moneymaker?

The premise is gimmicky and lurid and really only there to cover up the fact that this is another middle brow show about middle aged malaise. Since the show debuted in June of 09 the economy has gotten a little better but Hung, being set in Michigan and all, has the luxury of just ignoring that fact and moving forward as though nothing were different. And it still manages to do something very well; it realistically captures a troubled life in these modern times and gives voice to all those men out there floundering through life with no real sense of identity.

Not much has changed in Ray’s life since the end of season one. He’s still squabbling with his ex-wife over custody of their plus sized twins, only now he seems nostalgic for the good old days and is sort of trying to date her as well. Not that we blame him, at least from a superficial point of view, Jessica looks sleek and sophisticated. She also happens to be dating a nebbish, compromised version of Ray. Her mom warns her away from new found friendship with Ray by dropping some sage advice on her: “Friends with first husband, goodbye second husband” but Jessica is hardly the type to take such advice seriously.

Appearances aside she is the runaway least likeable character on the show. The fact that she is a strict media creation (with skinny hips, long blond hair and fashionable clothes) hardly covers up the obvious which is that underneath it all she’s just a tightly wound ball of insecurity who is oblivious to just how much venom she injects into the world. A wise man (Greenberg) once said “Hurt people hurt people” and this is a prime example.

On the business side of things Ray’s dueling pimps Lenore (Rebecca Creskoff) and Tanya (Jane Adams) continue to agree on nothing and quibble over everything. Throughout last season Lenore slowly and steadily took over Happiness Consultants (their business) and thus far this season she remains an overbearing managerial type who tries to whip Ray into shape using her textbook strategies. Tanya lives on the other side of the spectrum and employs a much more granola approach to pimping.

In the first episode of this season she declares that she will no longer take payments from Ray until he recognizes her as a better pimp than Lenore. Performance wise neither of the actors are able to sell me on their abilities. Creskoff plays it safe and mimics every annoying career woman you’ve ever met. Adams oversells herself as a pathetic ragamuffin who is incapable of being efficient which leads us to wonder why Ray would even involve her in this process.

Jane meanwhile is busy giving his most human performance of his career. It’s hard to imagine him six short years ago as the indiscriminate ass-kicking superhero The Punisher. Besides showing mass amounts of vulnerability and world weariness his smoldering narration is a huge plus for the show as it helps to give gravitas where before there was none. The main thing holding Hung back is the plot’s reluctance to move forward. The prostitution angle pays the bills and gives the show a reason to exist but upon close examination reveals itself to be rather one dimensional. Much more interesting is the personal side of things and if only these characters led significant lives then we could have something special on our hands.

The big shocker at the end of the second episode is that Ray’s daughter Darby has joined a protest group wherein she and other overweight people go and protest outside gyms and the sort. This development could be turned into something fantastic but for not the scene where they tried to peer pressure Jessica into eating cake just came off as farcical. Rather than this Desperate Housewives style trash the writers should focus more on the ways in which Ray struggles through modern times and deal with the problems of the modern man.

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