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Hung: The Complete First Season

(2009) *** Unrated
315 min. HBO. Director: Alexander Payne. Cast: Thomas Jane, Jane Adams, Anne Heche, Gregg Henry.

/content/films/3781/1.jpgThe timing is right for HBO's half-hour dramedy Hung. A darkly tinged recessionary comedy of (self-)destruction and erection, Hung satirizes American's slippery senses of business ethics and social morality. It's appropriate, then, that the pilot episode was directed by Alexander Payne, whose Election made a nasty joke of the American inability to tell the difference between ethics and morality, much less put the concepts into principled practice. Yes, as the title implies, there's a big dick involved, but Hung is the story of a "little guy"—jock turned sad-sack high-school basketball coach turned gigolo Ray Drecker—whose entrepreneurial spirit outstrips his inhibitions. He's an R-rated Horatio Alger hero—if he's lucky, that is.

In suburban Detroit—ground zero for our dying empire—Drecker (Thomas Jane) faces one embarrassment after another: he hasn't bounced back from his divorce, the team he coaches is a losing one, and the cabin that is his home goes up in flames, sending his kids (who are, by a hair, more materialistic than they are emotionally needy) running back to his ex-wife Jessica (Anne Heche). Like it or not, Drecker can see that he's at a crossroads. At an all-time low of confidence, Ray decides to go to a low-rent business seminar whose peppy but unconvincing instructor (Steve Hytner of Seinfeld) encourages everyone to discover his or her "winning tool" and wield it to achieve success. Ray reflects and concludes that his unique asset is his sizeable penis. A chance meeting with a former one-night-stand—failed poet Tanya Skagle (Jane Adams of Happiness)—provides Ray with some (dubious) outside perspective and, soon enough, a partner equally hungry for a taste of success. Before you can say "hustle," Tanya is a pimp and Ray is her ho.

The temptation would be to play this scenario for maximum yuks, but this isn't a FOX sitcom. Hung is determinedly low-key, to a fault. Creators Colette Burson and Dmitry Lipkin are simpatico with their hero, who is well-motivated but propelled by an energy that's somewhat logy. It's a gamble to hang a series on a guy who keeps his inner fire at a low simmer, turning with relief to a female acquaintance eager to manage his career for him. But it's also what Hung has going for it: a distinctive character dynamic between Ray and Tanya, who finds empowerment (and poetic justice) in rehabilitating the sex industry to enliven sexually deadened women or, failing that, at least line her pockets and give her a sense of accomplishment. Ray is bemused and bumbling in his initial outings, and Tanya has a reckless bravado in doing a job for which she has no demonstrable experience or skill; obviously to some degree, Burson and Lipkin are reversing gender roles here. Still, Ray is a guy's guy: athletic, handy, and drawn to beauty, which complicates matters when he's sent to service an older, heavier woman (Margo Martindale of Dexter).

Hung doesn't have the same narrative drive as its cable brethren, like the happily plot-heavy Weeds (Hung's conceptual sibling), but Hung has a more life-like rhythm than just about any show on the air, and Burson and Lipkin are in no rush inorganically to complicate Ray and Tanya's inherently complicated career move. By season's end, the meddling of client Lenore (Rebecca Creskoff) has stealthily developed into a major plot point, but that's pretty much the only definitive twist in the story. There's ongoing strain in the relationship between Ray and his teenage twin children Damon and Darby (Charlie Saxton and Sianoa Smit-McPhee) and a growing rift between Jessica and her husband Ronnie (Eddie Jemeson). School cutbacks may spell the end of the line for coach Ray and his assistant coach Mike (Gregg Henry). And Busron and Lipkin introduce an intriguing (anti-)romantic foil for Ray in Jemma (Natalie Zea), a psychologically screwed-up—or, to put it more charitably, complicated—woman who uses Ray's services to exorcise the wrongs men have done her. Hung is hanging around for a second season; it'll be interesting to see where another ten half-hours will take the characters.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 6/22/2010

Distributor: HBO Home Video

HBO brings Hung to Blu-ray in a two-disc set featuring strong hi-def transfers. While the picture isn't aesthetically dazzling, and the transfers don't offer the depth and detail of the best of Blu-ray, they are nevertheless true to the series cinematographic source and a big step up from their standard-def DVD equivalents. The image gets solid marks all around for color, contrast, detail, texture, and black level; there's just a bit of inconsistency to the sharpness and shadow detail can be wanting. No quibbles here regarding the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixes, which makes the material livelier than one might expect: the tracks offer impressive immersion by way of ambient sound, the music is full-bodied, and the dialogue is never less than clear and well-prioritized.

The special features begin with commentaries by executive producers/co-creators Colette Burson and Dmitry Lipkin and writer Brett C. Leonard on the episodes "Pilot," "The Pickle Jar," and "Thith ith a Prothetic or You Come Just Right." They discuss conceptualizing the series, striking the right tone, the virtues of the cast, and the production of the first season.

"About Hung" (9:36, HD) is a quick making-of overview featuring sound bites from Burson, Lipkin, Thomas Jane, executive producer Michael Rosenberg, executive producer Scott Stephens, Jane Adams, Anne Heche, Charlie Saxton, and Sianoa Smit-McPhee.

"The Women of Hung" (7:20, HD) takes a similar tack on a self-descriptive subject, with comments from Jane, Burson, Lipkin, Rebecca Creskoff, Heche, Stephens, Adams, Natalie Zea, and Rosenberg.

Lastly, HBO includes an amusing collection of "Ray and Tanya's Personal Ads" (1:52, HD).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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