In the US: Sundays, 10pm, HBO
Ah, men. It’s all falling apart, isn’t it? No longer king of the castle, the divorce rates through the roof, the wife always getting custody of the kids. Let’s face it, women are succeeding where none-too-bright, male former sports stars are failing – you know, by working harder and being smarter. Damn them.
Is there nowhere, no realm where men have a unique selling point, “a special tool” if you like: an area where they’re the best and no woman can succeed?
Well, there is one, I guess.
Years ago in high school, Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane) was athletic, popular and destined for success. Now, as a high-school teacher and basketball coach, he’s underpaid, uninsured, and embittered that his wife of 20 years (Anne Heche) has left him for her dermatologist. After a fire damages the rundown Detroit home he inherited from his parents, Ray’s fortunes reach an all-time low when his twin children, who had been living with him, move in with their mom and her clean-freak hubby.
Lonely, run-down and at wit’s end, Ray attends a local self-help class whose mantra is to identify a personal “winning tool” to market for financial success. After a not-so-fulfilling encounter with a fellow attendee – an ex-flame and would-be poet named Tanya (Jane Adams) – Ray has a “eureka” moment. With the help of Tanya, Ray resolves to take advantage of his greatest asset, in hopes of changing his fortunes in a big way.
Is it any good?
It’s one of those shows that conjure a ‘wry grin’. Although at first glance it looks like a comedic Falling Down or even Disclosure, it becomes clear that this isn’t on anyone’s side. Yes, Ray, the ‘hero’ is a slacker teacher who can’t make ends meet (no pun intended) because his luck’s bad and he’s not bright enough to be able to do anything about it; all the other male characters, with perhaps the exception of Ray’s Goth son Damon, are equally flawed in their own ways,
But, unlike comedies such as The King of Queens and Everyone Loves Raymond, the women in it aren’t nice or better: they’re as much the butt (no pun intended) of the joke as Ray, and are predominantly harpies, liars and gold diggers.
The one exception to this in our role-reversal comedy is the ultra-feminine loser to ultra-masculine loser, Ray: Tanya, who wants to get rich by baking bread that contains laminated poems. Okay, she’s still a loser, but she’s an appealing loser. Ray’s former one-night stand, she realises that he’s not in touch with his feminine side enough to market himself properly, so becomes his pimp.
In many ways, this “everyone’s a loser, baby” attitude to people shows Hung‘s pedigree: it’s from Dmitry Lipkin, who created FX’s The Riches. But trying to get a handle on the show’s meaning, if it has one, is tricky. It is perhaps suggesting that gender roles are in flux and men are going to have to accept unpleasant ‘female’ roles and women accept unpleasant ‘male’ roles if they’re to succeed right now.
But having a message might be a bit of a stretch for the show. After all, on the whole, this is like a slightly lighter version of Breaking Bad, with Thomas Jane giving the over-the-top Malcolm in the Middle performance everyone thought Bryan Cranston was going to give in that show. It’s hard to take his character or plight seriously, when he’s not playing the role straight. And if it’s a comedy, the jokes are few and far between.
Whether it’ll be good depends on where the show goes in the next couple of episodes. At the moment, all we have is a dark set-up, a series of unlikeable characters in sad situations, and some penis puns to deal with. What they plan to do next will make or break the show.
Cast and crew
Thomas Jane (Ray Drecker)
Jane Adams (Tanya Skagle)
Anne Heche (Jessica Haxon)
Eddie Jemison (Ronnie)
Sianoa Smit-McPhee (Darby)
Charlie Saxton (Damon)
Created by: Dmitry Lipkin and Colette Burson
Executive producers: Colette Burson, Dmitry Lipkin, Alexander Payne, Michael Rosenberg, John Morayniss and Noreen Halpern
Co-executive producers: Scott Stephens and Emily Kapnek