I've said it many times before, but network television is, aside from a couple of bright spots ("Lost", which is no longer) continuing to decline. Each year gets a bit worse, with reality shows like "America's Got Talent" (which is 99.9% people willing to embarrass themselves to get on TV and .1% people with actual talent), "Dancing With the Stars" (whose major success still puzzles me) taking up more places on the schedule because they're cheaply made and can more easily turn a profit. Yet, while there's a few success stories, networks find that more and more people are tuning out. HBO continues to churn out a variety of series, with the latest being one of the more unexpected.
"Hung" is the creation of Dimitry Lipkin and Collette Burson, both of whom previously worked together on "The Riches". "Hung" focuses on Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane), a man living in Detroit who has watched his life slowly crumble away after his wife (Anne Heche) has taken his two kids (Charlie Saxton and Sianoa Smit-McPhee) and left him. If that's not bad enough, the house he grew up in - and where he had taken to living - has burned down, leading him to live in a tent until he can figure a way out of the situation.
With his salary as a basketball coach and history teacher barely making ends meet, the former star athlete is finally forced to fall back on what he believes is the one thing he has to offer the world. Completely new to the gigolo game and unaware of where to even begin, he teams up with Tanya (Jane Adams), a girl from Ray's past who is equally inexperienced in the prostitution game.
The series follows Ray as he tries to balance out his "work life" with his personal life, as he sleeps with a variety of women for work. Ray heads out on the town as a "happiness consultant" - which Yet, as the season progresses there's hints of a spark between him and Tanya. Adams and Jane are fun together, as they have fine chemistry and bounce lines off each other effortlessly.
The show's other layer, which follows Ray's ex-wife, Jessica (Anne Heche) and her rich doctor husband (Eddie Jemison) is really the worst aspect of the series, as having two unlikable people struggling to work out their issues does not make for particularly compelling viewing. Heche's character tried to marry into money, but she finds that doing so wasn't the answer to all of her problems. Meanwhile, she continues to become disconnected from her children, who are getting older.
Produced by Alexander Payne ("Sideways", who directed the first episode), "Hung" tries to be both comedy and drama, although the series has a bit of difficulty merging the two tones. The comedy is predictable but amusing, as Ray tries (and sometimes stumbles in his attempt to) to navigate the prostitution biz with Tanya (and later Lenore, played by Rebecca Creskoff, a lifestyle coach who believes she can run the business better, causing a bit of a power struggle with Tanya.)
A little bit better is the dramatic aspect of the series, as there's an underlying current of sadness to the series that's moving and effective. The series focuses on a man forced into a business he doesn't know or understand in an attempt to make a living, and the series plays out against the backdrop of the recession and the somber atmosphere of Detroit (as for an exploration of Detroit, see the "No Reservations" episode, "Rust Belt") which, as the main character puts it, is "the headwaters of a river of failure." The series is about sex, but it's not particularly sexy - one of Ray's clients is looking for a "fantasy date", but just what her fantasy is Ray couldn't have seen coming.
"Hung" isn't without its flaws - the Heche character isn't particularly engaging, and some of the series is rather predictable. Still, the show's dramatic moments work well, and the comedy gets a few laughs. The series is carried by the performances, as the trio of Jane, Adams and Creskoff are terrific. The series definitely works more often than not, but it'll be interesting to see how the series progresses and changes over time, as the core idea may start to be repetitive over time.
1 1-01 28/Jun/09 Pilot
2 1-02 12/Jul/09 'Great Sausage' or 'Can I Call You Dick?'
3 1-03 19/Jul/09 'Strange Friends' or 'The Truth Is, You're Sexy'
4 1-04 26/Jul/09 The Pickle Jar
5 1-05 02/Aug/09 Do it, Monkey
6 1-06 09/Aug/09 'Doris is Dead' or 'Are We Rich or Are We Poor?'
7 1-07 16/Aug/09 "The Rita Flower" or "The Indelible Stench"
8 1-08 23/Aug/09 "Thith ith a Prothetic" or "You Cum Just Right"
9 1-09 30/Aug/09 "This is America" or "Fifty Bucks"
10 1-10 13/Sep/09 "A Dick and a Dream" or "Fight the Honey"
VIDEO: "Hung" is presented by HBO in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is above-average, with fine sharpness and detail throughout the series. No print flaws were spotted, but a couple of slight traces of pixelation were seen. Colors look rather subdued throughout much of the show, but appear accurately presented.
SOUND: The show's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation does occasionally put the surrounds to use to deliver ambience and a few other mild details. However, the dialogue-driven presentation otherwise had the audio largely spread across the front speakers. Audio quality is fine, with clear dialogue and music.
EXTRAS: Writer Brett Leonard and co-creators Collete Burson and Dimitry Lipkin offer a commentary on three episodes. The commentaries provide a fine discussion of the development of the series, as well as performances/working with the actors, writing/story and more. While not without a few pauses of silence here-and-there, these are fine commentary tracks.
We also get short featurettes on the women of the series and an overview of the show. "Ray and Tanya's Personal Ads" promos round out the package.
Final Thoughts: The series definitely works more often than not, but it'll be interesting to see how the series progresses and changes over time, as the core idea may start to be repetitive over time. The DVD set offers solid audio/video quality, as well as a few nice supplemental features. Recommended.