Monday, July 12, 2010

"Hung," Season 2, Episode 2

Posted By on Mon, Jul 12, 2010 at 11:01 AM

ONE DAY ILL BUY YOU CONTACTS, MY SON: Charlie Saxton, Thomas Jane and Sianoa Smit-McPhee
  • Courtesy of HBO
  • ONE DAY I'LL BUY YOU CONTACTS, MY SON: Charlie Saxton, Thomas Jane and Sianoa Smit-McPhee
I thought a little bit about HBO’s “Hung” while getting caught up on AMC’s “Breaking Bad’s” third season on iTunes this weekend. Both shows depict middle-aged high school teachers raising money with illegal means — prostitution and cooking, meth, respectably — while keeping their extracurriculars secret from their families. Suburban, middle-class crime and transgression may be the big unifying theme of contemporary cable dramas.

A measure of the show’s long-term quality is the strength of the “normal” supporting characters. “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White makes an endlessly fascinating antihero, but the third season finds fresh dimensions in his foils, turning his duped wife Skylar into a vengeful woman scorned, and giving his macho cop brother-in-law Hank an existential crisis. On “Hung,” Tanya’s complex and quirky while Ray’s in an interesting situation (while not being terribly interesting himself). We’re only two episodes into the half-hour dramedy’s second season, but so far, most of the supporting players have one dimension at best.

Perhaps the most intriguing and convincing are Ray and Jessica’s Goth-type teenage twins, Damon (Charlie Saxton) and Darby (Sianoa Smit-McPhee), and a recent piece in The Vulture provides insight into the writing and casting of the roles. (Here’s the link, to spare you the awkwardness of doing a Google search for “Hung teenagers.”) They look nothing like their Mom and Dad, reminiscent of an old joke that in The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman was the Jewish son of two WASP parents. But they’re credible and sympathetic teenagers without being merely nubile vehicles for sarcastic quips. Last season give Damon a wrinkle involving his bi-curiosity (which turned out to be merely an expression of plain old loneliness). This week, Darby flummoxes her thin, perfectionist mother by attending a fat protest, asserting pride in her zaftig proportions in defiance of Jessica’s skin-deep values.

Anne Heche gives Jessica a sympathetic portrayal as she faces various marital, family and financial crises that require her to examine her life. Jessica's awareness that she's been superficial for so long doesn't necessarily make her compelling. Ray attempt at rekindling their romance will clearly be a major part of the show, and it’s a complete snooze, particularly the all-American bowling scene on the latest episode. Will her dermatologist husband Ronnie assert own masculinity, or will he just be a sad-sack Beta male, overshadowed by Ray's height and rugged good looks?

"Hung's" clearly invested in the Lenore character, so she's bound to reveal another level besides bitchy one-upsmanship. So far, though, she has little to do but call Tanya “tea-brain” and make mercenary remarks about Ray’s “dick” at least once an episode. This week focuses on her power struggle with Tanya, but Lenore resorts to infantile stunts like name-calling and misinforming Tanya about their meeting with Ray. Lenore comes across less as a person than merely a source friction and bumper-sticker-style quips like "Tucson is the gateway to dick" (last night's episode title).

This week, prostitution was barely present. One subplot, when Tanya tries to land a rich potential client, gives Tanya a chance to brush up her salesmanship, but has nothing really to do with illicit sexuality. Ray’s ambivalence about having sex with last week’s pregnant client is more about his disappointment with his own failed marriage. (And, why was he putting together her crib, anyway? It’s like the joke when a prostitute says “I’ll do anything you want” and the client says “Paint my house.”) There's a littile male aggrandizement here, in the implication that Ray's so sexually satisfying, the client may reject giving her estranged husband a second chance. He's probably one of those Ronnie types.

There's a lot of to-and-from between Ray and Mrs. Koontz, his next-door fuck-buddy, about whether he’ll accept the mattress she gives him — which is ironic, given that he was planning to charge her cold, hard cash the first time they had sex. It's amusing when gives him the bed, “so you don’t have to live like a homeless.” But why does “Hung” seek laughs from women with funny accents, like Israeli hottie Mrs. Koontz and Ray’s Polish, battle-axe mother-in-law? Sketch comedy accents do not make compelling characters.

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