These trying times of increasing economic hardship are certainly an odd basis for a comedy, but that is precisely where HBO has set out its lemonade stand for their latest half-hour offering. Opening with a dime tour of the once mighty Motor City, now dilapidated and depressed, Hung’s irreverent hero Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane of Punisher fame) glumly offers an assessment of our nation’s fiscally drowning underclass. Peppered with shots of junkyards, car graveyards, and images of abandoned industry, Drecker characterizes his troubled city as “Headquarters on the river of failure.”
Despite a mildly taboo premise, and tantalizing shots of Jane’s shirtless, impossibly ripped torso occurring with the frequency of a Chippendale show, this isn’t really a sex comedy at all. Rather Hung is a comedy about male angst, about the emasculating nature of recession. It’s a comedy about America. In fact almost every aspect of this show has an underlying economic message. A high school teacher and coach of the town’s luckless, winless basketball team, currently riding the wave of an unprecedented losing streak, we learn that Ray earns more than a waiter and slightly less than a plumber.
Whatever the actual figure is, it’s not enough and his wife Jess (Anne Heche) has divorced him for a yuppie dermatologist (the wonderfully weasely Eddie Jemison) while his nauseatingly rich neighbor, a lawyer, bombards him with petty citations from the homeowners’ association. Broke and desperate, Ray signs up for one of those entrepreneur seminars where he encounters an old one night stand in the form of trippy, dippy, hippy Tanya (Jane Adams) and together they hit upon the idea to utilize Ray’s “biggest” asset as a money maker by turning him into Detroit’s hottest gigolo sensation. It’s of course a preposterous notion, but it speaks to the oversimplified rhetoric applied to the America Dream – that all you need to do is combine effort with idea and wealth and prosperity will be yours. They will succeed, Tanya promises, through the magical, nigh miraculous gift of viral marketing.
At times Hung almost seems to fetishize misery and hardship, or at the very least revel in it. The electrical fire that guts the home Ray’s parents left him and sees him living in a tent on his lawn and his twin teenage children packed off to Jess is hilariously drawn out, almost teasingly so. It’s perhaps a little too calculated, and at times even a little cliché – a dad can’t afford to buy his son a ticket for a rock concert in Detroit! – but Jane’s performance is nothing if not affecting. He might only have two facial expressions (frustration and awkwardness), but there is an inherently affable quality to his underdog persona as a man swimming upstream while the world at large sticks it to him from every conceivable angle. It’s a little light on actual belly laughs, but there is sincerity to the absurdity that anchors it a safe distance away from cruel parody.
America positively loves the story of the plucky little guy going it alone through sheer will and determination. But Hung is also smart enough to realize that the romantic notion of the American Dream is as hollow and as burnt out as Ray’s house. Ray’s a man lost in time. A former high school sport’s star with a promising college career ended by injury, Ray is undereducated, under skilled and caught in a cycle where in the digital age a strong work ethic by itself will not get you anywhere. No doubt Hung’s success will be down to just how many people across the country can relate.
Starring: Thomas Jane, Jane Adams, Sianoa Smit-McPhee, Charlie Saxton, Anne Heche, Eddie Jemison, Rebecca Creskoff
Created By: Dmitry Lipkin, Colette Burson
Showtime: Sundays, 10:00pm EST