"Everything's falling apart." So begins the first episode of HBO's Hung , a new dramatic comedy that premieres this Sunday, June 28, at 10 p.m. The opening shots highlight downtown Detroit's urban blight, and the economic downturn serves as backdrop for the tale of a man who takes desperate measures to survive financial hardship. Because it's HBO, this particular red-blooded American man doesn't score a part-time position at Starbucks. He becomes a male prostitute.
Thomas Jane stars as Ray Drecker, a once-great athlete who's fallen from his lofty pedestal. His homecoming queen ex-wife (Anne Heche) has left him for a wealthy dermatologist who's kind enough to give her Botox injections in the kitchen while she complains about her failures as a mother, his house has burned to the ground, and his fellow teachers at the high school where he teaches history and coaches basketball are getting laid off left and right. His kids don't even want to live with him anymore. "What happened to my life?" Drecker laments.
Looking for a way out of the mess, Drecker attends a get-rich-quick seminar, "Unleash Your Inner Entrepreneur," in which he is advised to discover his "one winning tool" that will turn him into a multimillioniare. Drecker doesn't have any clever ideas, but he does have one thing going for him: He's very well hung.
While Jane's Drecker is a bit of a lummox, and the show's thin premise is little more than a protracted dick joke, the pilot's director, Alexander Payne ( Election , Sideways ), guides our hero through a myriad of rotating relationships with women played by brilliant female character actresses. To get work, Drecker teams up with sometimes-lover-and-fellow-seminar-attendee Tanya Skagle (Jane Adams), a flailing poet who's brilliant idea is Lyric Bread: bits of poetry stuffed into baked goods. (The inside of her left wrist reveals a tiny tattoo: "proust.") Regardless of her lefty leanings, Skagle decides her gift with words is destined to market Drecker's new sex work career. "I'm hoping to make money and bring something positive into the world at the same time," she explains dreamily to a well-connected woman the pair use to solicit wealthy female clients for Drecker's budding business.
Being a male prostitute isn't easy, apparently. You won't be hearing any of Hung 's more memorable one-liners on network TV anytime soon. "Good cock is hard to find," one woman observes. "Why can't they just fuck me for me?" Drecker grouses. And then there's: "I hear you've got a big one."
Ultimately, Hung can't quite make up its mind whether it's a penis joke masquerading as a TV show, or a sometimes insightful look at the strange relations between men and women laid bare when things get intimate. The series' best moments come during the all-too-rare sex scenes wherein both parties let down their guard, and Hung shows us what we haven't yet seen: how terrifically complicated it is for men and women to understand one another.
Mostly, the show's creators, Dmitry Lipkin and Colette Burson ( The Riches ) ignore the moral issues of sex work that Showtime's Secret Diary of a Call Girl had to wrestle with. When the pimp is a woman, and the whore is a man, why bother considering the finer social issues? There's another dick joke to be made!
"I think for a lot of women happiness and great sex are kind of the same thing," Tanya, who refers to her male charge as a "happiness consultant," insightfully observes. Unfortunately, that's the last we hear of that. It's not until the fourth episode that Drecker finally gets it on with a client, and we're left staring at his bare bottom while a woman oggles his hungness. Where's the revelation in that?