Okay, so technically, HBO’s new comedy series Hung—about a man who uses his biggest asset to make money as a male prostitute—isn’t Latin entertainment. It doesn’t tackle any Latin themes, and there are no Latinos or Latinas in the main cast—or even in supporting roles, for that matter (that’s typical for HBO, by the way). Still, I think there are millions of Latinos across the country who can identify, relate to and sympathize with Hung’s protagonist, Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane)—a middle-aged history teacher and reluctant high school basketball coach who’s straight out of luck.
Ray had his glory days back in high school. We learn about them because Alexander Payne (Sideways), who directed Hung’s premiere episode, smartly shows us Ray’s old trophy case, and man is it stacked! The trophies recall Ray’s youth, and more than just a close-up of the case itself, the establishing shot can also be seen as a close-up of a time when Ray had it all: looks, charm, popularity and unparalleled athletic ability.
Now all he has is a big unit—or so his ex-wife Jessica (Anne Heche) tells him after she leaves him for a dermatologist who looks far too much like Barry Manilow. Pinched for cash and recently divorced from Jessica, Ray lives at his mom and dad’s old house, a shack in the middle of town that screams "Suburban nightmare!" He works as a history teacher and coaches basketball after school, but he seems to hate both jobs and complains that although teachers in Detroit make above the national average, they’re still severely underpaid. Ray is so miserable with his life that he fakes passing a kidney stone to get out of coaching an afternoon ballgame. Ironically, he’s the head coach of a team who, like him, is on a long, endless losing streak. The final straw comes when an accident leads to his house (or should I say his mom and dad’s house?) going up in flames. That’s when Ray decides to turn his life around by using his “winning tool” to make money in the hopes of having a better, more enjoyable life.
I have really mixed feelings about the premiere of Hung. First of all, I don’t know if I buy Jane (the super-muscular good-looking actor who kicked major butt in The Punisher) as a down-on-his-luck loser. That said, Jane solidly conveys Ray’s quiet desperation, and more impressive, he makes Ray someone we can all like despite his less-than-amicable separation from his wife, his not-so-sweet relationship with his two kids and his constant moodiness. We root for Ray because he’s down but not out—he’s trying to change his life.
What makes me question whether this show can succeed is that I feel like this is a one-joke show where the joke isn’t funny. Ray is a male prostitute who has a big penis. I get that. But what’s funny about it? I’ve found the concept of a male prostitute very funny before, particularly in the movie Deuce Bigalo, Male Gigolo. But what that movie did that Hung hasn’t so far was find humor in the exchanges between the gigolo (Rob Schneider) and the women he dated as a “man whore.” The more awkward Ray’s scenes are with the women who pay him for sex, the better Hung will be!
I plan to watch the show next week and give it one more chance, because there were things I did like about the pilot, especially the show’s efforts to portray a character who is struggling during rough economic times (something we can all relate to these days). I also really liked Jane Adams (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) as Tanya Skagle, a passionate poet who works as a temp, and volunteers to become Ray’s female pimp for a cut of the money. For now though, I can’t decide if Hung is going to be a huge success or a giant failure. The jury, my friends, is still out on this one.
Watch a trailer of the show here:
Then tell me: What did you think of Hung?