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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Hung: "A Man, A Plan or Thank You, Jimmy Carter"

Illustration for article titled Hung: "A Man, A Plan or Thank You, Jimmy Carter"
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The last few weeks, some of you who think Hung is better than I think it is have been arguing that I need to stop thinking of it as a comedy and more as a half-hour drama. I wouldn't have a problem with this point of view - after all, one of my very favorite shows is a half-hour drama - but the show I'm watching doesn't back me up on it. Arguably, Hung would be a lot better if it abandoned the conceit that it was a comedy and just let the unpleasantness of many of its situations play for full dramatic effect, crossing from uneasy laughter to weird drama back to something like tragedy all in the space of a few seconds. But it's clear that the show itself thinks it's a wacky, dry comedy and that we should all be laughing at it.

The best way to tell if a show thinks it's supposed to be funny or not is from the music. If it's bouncy and wacky, then, inevitably, someone in the production chain thinks this is hilarious, and we should be laughing at it. Hung is almost never subtle in this regard. That painful scene where Damon was high and freaking out his sister? Completely scored to the goofy strings that mark Hung at its most painful. And when Tanya talked with Damon about his affections for his sister after reading his poem, those same strings swelled, the better to let us know that we were watching something ostensibly heartwarming. The whole series goes like this, from "funny" scenes to "heartwarming" scenes, and the music is the best way to tell what the series is going for, not the direction or scripts or performances. I think that Hung was a pretty nervy show at times in its first season, but somewhere along the way, it's lost that nerve.

Anyway, tonight was the first episode to really deal with the fact that, yeah, Damon pretty obviously wants to get a whole lot closer to his sister than just being her brother. She, appropriately, thinks it's pretty weird and gross and wants to get away from him after hearing his poem "Sac" at the poetry slam. But he's ingested some sort of drug (and keeps trying to escape through the walls, which is funny), and she can't seem to shake him, so she has to call her dad, who's about to go on a date with the "white whale" he and Tanya have been trying to land, a rich widow who doesn't necessarily think that she needs male companionship.

When I just write it out like that, the plot sounds surprisingly intriguing and complex. But somehow, in the moment, the show sucks all of the life out of those potential plot developments. Part of it comes from the series not really knowing how to write the kids to make them believable and/or sympathetic, to say nothing of the affectless way the actors play the kids. I generally like when shows start to expand outward to incorporate more of the supporting cast in a second season, but the ways Hung has done so - by opening things up to the kids and to Jessica's second husband - are often so hamfisted that the series seems to be just trying to make them more important characters by giving them more and more irritating things to do. I normally have a pretty big tolerance for cringe humor, but the scene where Damon reads "Sac" got to even me. It wasn't so painful it was funny or so painful it was tragic; it was just painful, relying us to care for the character based on feelings for him the series had never bothered developing.

But, then, here's the thing. Hung will be coasting along on awful people doing awful things to each other in the most irritating ways possible, accompanied by calliope music, and then it will abruptly drop in a really sweet, well-done scene out of nowhere. I really liked that scene where Tanya and Damon talked about his poem, for instance, and the conclusion of the Gregg Henry and the rich widow storyline was well-done as well, building from that scene where he looked at the check for the fancy restaurant and decided that, yeah, he could take a chance on picking it up into a scene where he's happily teaching science and where Ray realizes he's lost the so-called "white whale" but made a friend happy in the process. This was a sweet, winning little storyline that drifted through the episode. The only problem was that it featured none of the main characters and was a complete sidebar to everything else that was going on.

On the other hand, I enjoyed the scene where Jessica, her husband, and her mother were discussing embarrassing moments in their sex lives (like Ronnie talking about walking in on his dad masturbating). This was a scene that better split the difference between painful and funny, and it was often quite amusing as the characters bounced dialogue off of each other, and Darby (did you know that was her name? I sure didn't) wanted to be anywhere but in that room. Sure, it was the kind of thing you've seen before, and it wasn't that funny in the long run, but there was the sense that at least the show was trying. On the other hand, I'm tired of scenes where Ronnie complains about how Jessica doesn't love him enough or how he wants a baby or whatever. He's a fairly detestable character, as written, and the show doesn't seem at all interested in making his point of view - which is fairly sympathetic - anything other than detestable.


If Hung could be watched as a drama consistently and enjoyed in that fashion, I'd be so willing to do that. But, arguably, the show is much worse as a drama because it keeps trying to slap in some undercooked comedy amidst all of the interesting dramatic reversals and character beats. What's more likely is that this is a comedy written by drama writers who don't really know how to do comedy but were contracted to do one and want to deliver on that promise. To that end, they've deployed broad comedy, wacky music, on-the-nose satire, and a sense that America just isn't what it was, man. Hung has yet to piss me off so much that I'll stop watching it, but it just sort of sits there every week. Honestly, the greatest insult to it is that I've started looking forward to Entourage more. It's a much worse show, but at least it doesn't feel like sitting in line at the DMV.

Stray observations:

  • This baseball subplot is just going nowhere. When Ray's team inevitably wins state in the finale, it's going to feel like the least earned victory in the history of unearned victories.
  • I think part of the problem with the show is that we just don't know how dire the financial straits for Tanya, Ray, and Lenore are. One week, if they just get the white whale, they'll be set for life, but the next, if they don't get her, they're completely fucked. I'm not going to suggest that there are people who don't approach their finances this way (I certainly do), but we lack any sort of perspective on just how lucrative Ray's second career has been for him, outside of just lucrative enough for him to keep pursuing it.
  • "Can you stop trying to go through the wall?"