Hung is the HBO series with the somewhat infamous concept: middle-aged high school teacher and divorced father puts his natural endowments to use making money as a ladies-only male prostitute. Thomas Jane (The Mist) stars in the show as Ray, a stand-up guy fallen on hard times trying to adjust to the extraordinary measures required to get back on his feet. A coach and an athlete, he's a dude who is used to working with his body, though not quite in this manner.
Season Two resumes with Ray struggling with a variety of unforeseen complications. For one, his original pimp, a mousey proofreader named Tanya (Jane Adams), has been elbowed aside by Lenore (Rebecca Creskoff), a sexy ball buster who works as a "life coach" for wealthy older women. While this is the perfect clientele for Ray, the first jane that Lenore brought him at the end of Season One turned out to be his ex-wife, Jessica (a revitalized Anne Heche). Ray realizes now that her second marriage is in trouble, and he maybe has a shot of winning Jessica back. He still loves her.
Hung is a show that is intermittently sexy but, despite its premise, isn't about sex. Ray's mid-life change is, essentially, centered on his treatment of women, about learning not to be selfish and to give other people what they need. A regular plot point in Season Two is Ray giving the money he earned for his house to his baseball team instead. Budget cuts have hurt the program, and are threatening his day job. There is a great metaphor buried in here: the school district will pay for the team's transportation to away games, but the players will have to find their own ride home. It's our broken education system in one cracked nutshell: we are only getting our kids so far, and then they are left to their own devices.
This is Ray's dilemma, as well. He has traveled as far as he can in this life, and he doesn't know how to get home. As with the original season, his clients have specific needs, and the solution for dealing with those needs might also provide a solution for Ray. The pregnant woman who has gotten used to doing for herself and the African American woman who doesn't know how to enjoy sex are there to teach Ray how to be present; the conflict that arises when he has an Arab customer while also having an affair with his Israeli neighbor (Alanna Ubach) is heavily saddled with homilies about choosing sides, but it's really about who Ray is there for. It's his homelife that is important: dealing with his kids (Charlie Saxton and Sianoa Smit-McPhee) and with his ex-wife's personal problems in ways he never has before.
It all works pretty well, but to be honest, I felt Hung was lacking a little something in its second season. I still enjoyed it, but some of the spark has faded. For one, I found Ray to be too wishy washy. I like Thomas Jane, and his performance is great. When left to his own devices, he strikes a strong balance here between sensitivity and manliness. Unfortunately, the writing leans a little too much toward the sensitivity, and it makes Ray seem like a weak character. He gets pushed around a lot in Season Two, and he accepts things that are negative for himself. Paying for Tanya's bad choices impacts him both financially and personally--she hired out his best friend (Gregg Henry) as a companion without either of them knowing it, and the revelation puts Ray in a bind. But he takes the heat and gets steamrolled right over.
It probably doesn't help that I am getting pretty sick of Tanya. There is a humorous subplot this season where, hoping to get her power back from Lenore, Tanya talks to a real pimp (Lennie James, Colombiana) and gets advice from him. He is amused by this mealy mouthed white girl with one male ho. The comedy of her actually not taking his advice and constantly reversing on the little effort she makes grows ragged pretty quick. In much the same way Ray's character is working his way back to safety and stability, the writers have set Tanya adrift and don't know how to pull her back in. She's just getting annoying.
Anne Heche actually gets the most convincing arc this season. Jessica is dealing with real issues, not just as a mother and a wife, but also as a woman who is getting older and who maybe has never really been her own person. Unlike Tanya, she doesn't just whine about these problems, but she tries to effect change, experiments, makes mistakes. Heche plays Jessica as vulnerable and, when it counts, determined. The sexiest sequence in all ten episodes of Hung: The Complete Second Season is also probably the most tender: it's the event with Jessica and Ray that spans episode 9 and the season finale. If the family element of Hung was ever going to take over, the time is now.
In fact, I don't know what they are going to do with Season Three. Hung: The Complete Second Season closes with Ray in stasis, claiming that his gigolo days are over. Yet, he's also broke and about to be laid off from the school. Can he really keep it in his pants for long? I hope not. I don't want Hung to go through the same identity crises as Weeds, where the main character can never just commit to the new lifestyle and the producers keep backing her into a corner, hitting reset, and moving on rather than deal with the reality of their invented scenario. Ray needs to take charge and get it together, and he needs to keep swinging more than his baseball bat around. Otherwise Hung will cease to be what it's intended to be, and I'm not sure it can sustain a more regular narrative.
The ten episodes on Hung: The Complete Second Season are spread across two Blu-Ray discs. The 16:9 image (1.78:1) is presented at a 1080p resolution. The image quality is excellent, with good colors and nice skin texture. The sharp picture accurately presents the original broadcast content, with no instances of enhancement, digital blocking, or other of the usual problems. Blacks look good without any haziness, and while Hung doesn't sparkle in any breathtaking way, I find nothing to complain about.
HBO presents the show soundtracks in DTS-HS Master Audio 5.1, and I found the audio landscape to sound rich and immersive. Back channels are used regularly for subtle sound effects, creating a realistic sounding atmosphere. Dialogue is clear, and volume levels are strong, making everything easy to hear.
Spanish 2.0 and French 5.1 are also offered, and there are subtitles in Spanish, French, Brazilian Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, and English SDH.
The two-disc set is packaged in a foldable cardboard book with a top/bottom loading outer slipcover.
In terms of extras, HBO offers the standard options. Half the episodes feature audio commentaries with the producers and writers specific to those shows. They are decent tracks, informative and conversational, but not particularly revelatory. Likewise, 16 minutes of deleted scenes offer the usual trimmings, while a 13-minute behind-the-scenes promo does a good job of selling us what we already own. It's all fine, but perfunctory.
Recommended. The sophomore slump is evident in Hung: The Complete Second Season. The show meanders a little, and the main character loses his drive, but the overall work here is still entertaining. Thomas Jane and Anne Heche anchor the show as divorced parents, and their relationship offers some of the best material here as the main plot about the high school teacher turned high-priced hustler starts to get shaky. If you liked Season One, I think you'll like Hung: The Complete Second Season, but here's hoping it gets on a more solid track for the upcoming third go-around.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.