Six episodes into its freshman season, I’m finally ready to offer some tentative praise for HBO’s Hung. Despite the fact that Ray Drecker is not a terribly likable character — which, if we’re being generous, could read as a modest contribution to the show’s verisimilitude, given that public high school teachers in suburban Detroit are largely an unlikable people — Hung is far preferable to the topically adjacent Showtime (by way of the BBC) offering, Secret diary of a call girl. Secret diary‘s clandestine, only occasionally discomfiting world of high class hooking contrasts sharply with the minor humiliations to which Drecker’s hand-to-mouth income subjects him. And whereas Secret diary is structured episodically as a tongue-in-cheek, pseudo-ethnographic survey of upper middle class British kink, Hung is more a white bread character study of retarded lower middle class sexuality in Middle America.
Its gee-shucks posturing notwithstanding, Hung actually strikes me as the more sophisticated of the two. (It’s also slowly becoming the vehicle Jane Adams needs to crawl her way out of Typecast Hell.) With the arrival of Jemma’s character in the past two episodes, we’ve veered unexpectedly into a vision of metro Detroit not far removed from Crazy Charlie Kaufman Territory: last week Ray repeatedly bungled Jemma’s rescue fantasy in several different scenes, and this week he found himself shanghaied into couples therapy with her, flailing in an effort to reverse engineer the script to their role-playing.
Last night’s concluding refrain that “the scoreboard doesn’t matter” could well be read as an overinflated slice of Middle Class Hegemony Pie — a denial of the logic of capitalism very much opposed, by the way, to the pronounced working class sports metaphorology of (first and third season) Friday night lights. Crucially, though, its protention toward the climactic man-on-woman kiss was deflated first by Tanya’s insistence on the commercial nature of Ray’s relationship to Jemma, and then again by Jemma’s cryptic closing remark that not being charged for Ray’s companionship “wouldn’t be as fun.”
So we’re in a precarious spot at this point. The danger facing Hung‘s writers is now the same one that made me stop watching Secret diary after its first lukewarm season: the prospect of a triumphant (white) (heterosexual) (non-remunerative) romance. If Ray and Jemma fall in love — or, alternatively, if Ray and Tanya discover a romantic dimension to their relationship — all will have been for naught and TubaTV won’t bother with future projects by Colette Burson or Dmitry Lipkin (whose prematurely canceled The Riches ended just as precariously). If, however, the Ray-Jemma-Tanya triangle only gets weirder, we’ll happily continue to deal with Ray Drecker’s dumbass self-reflection in the deluded hope that it leads us out of the real Michigan and onward to somewhere new.
— J.C. Freñán