"The Middle East Is Complicated" S2 / E7
- B+ Community Grade
For every good and entertaining scene in tonight's Hung, continuing the show's generally upward trend, there was a scene where Ray argued with someone about hummus. No, really. A major plotline revolved around the true origin of hummus and whether Israeli or Arabic hummus was better. I'm sure this was supposed to be crazy symbolic or serious political commentary on the Middle East or something, but every time it came up, it stopped the show dead in its tracks, that wacky sitcom music rising again on the soundtrack. In general, whenever the wacky sitcom music shows up on this show, I assume the worst, and I'm usually proven correct. The show is never as funny as it thinks it is in these moments, and I'd be more OK with it if it just stopped with the music altogether and let me find what I thought would be funny myself.
One of the chief criticisms leveled against Hung last season was the fact that it was a show about a man who was a prostitute with a huge penis, but the only people we ever saw naked were women. There was perhaps something to this criticism, though I don't think the show is wildly sexist or anything. This season, we've seen much more of naked Thomas Jane (at least from the back, since we never see his mystic penis), so that criticism has mostly subsided into the background. However, tonight, Lenore wandered around naked for much of the first five minutes. And we're talking completely naked. She had a robe on, but it was open. I'm not going to complain about getting to see any of this (since Lenore has a very nice body), but it returned, again, to the questionable standards of the first season. It's hard to accept the show as a cunning sex farce when it has a double standard about nudity. If the show is never going to show Ray's penis (a creative decision I agree with), then it kind of seems like all nudity should be off the table. It just feels awkward otherwise.
But once again, Tanya's storyline was pretty fantastic. Every time she hangs out with a Pimp Named Lennie James, the show enters some new, weird, more entertaining zone, to the point where I almost think I'd rather watch a show about those two if Hung returns for a third season. Lenore has quickly worn out her welcome, and I'm not sure that I'm as invested in Ray's quest for self-improvement and/or the return to his first marriage as the show wants me to be. But Tanya remains a compelling and entertaining character, and her brief coupling with James' character this evening was pretty great. Every scene between these two sparkles with some choice dialogue, and the idea to have the two of them hook up wasn't the most natural place to turn in the world, but it paid off, I think. That scene after they've had sex was probably the best in the episode.
Furthermore, I'm enjoying Tanya's increased sense of self-confidence, even as it's coming in situations where she's inadvertently turning Mike into a prostitute. She gets properly angry at Ray for sleeping with Lenore, and she takes her pimp friend up on his offer to sleep with him, so he can more properly relax her. I like the way that the show seems to be more about her journey than anyone else's at this point, and if it consistently stuck with this, I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be the good show of the first handful of episodes again. I'm hopeful that this focus on Tanya's character will continue well into the next few episodes, and I think that Jane Adams is doing some of the best work she's turned in on the show in these recent episodes. I'm eager to see where her storyline goes, and that's the first time I would have said that about something on this show in quite a while.
Unfortunately, everything else was the usual muddled mess. Jessica, beaver now removed from the equation, is reluctantly ready to start trying to conceive a child with Ronnie, and while I still enjoy seeing her mother shriek things at her through closed bathroom doors, I just can't get too invested in the storyline of this baby to be and/or if Jessica is going to get her rash cleared up. Jessica remains such a frustratingly opaque character - seemingly flitting from one person to another from scene to scene - that I'm not sure where she's supposed to be in her journey. As an example, just why is she nodding in agreement as Lenore talks about how she'd be happy to be a cannibal after the apocalypse hit? And why was she so worked up about the beaver last week? The Jessica storylines feel like brief glimpses we get into an only half-examined life, and I wish the show was able to give us some sort of perspective on this character.
Finally, we have Ray and his various clients. In theory, I like the idea of Ray's dalliance with his neighbor turning into a whole thing where an Arabic client demands he choose between her and the Israeli, but in practice, it feels too thuddingly obvious most of the time. And that's to say nothing of Liz, who wanders back into the story, seemingly at random, to reveal that she has a fiancee. (I have to assume this is going somewhere because as a "cliffhanger," this is pretty pointless.) I feel like I don't ask a lot of Hung, but I do want to feel like the show gives me a sense that it knows where it's going, instead of a bunch of writers sitting around in a room and tossing ideas out and then picking one or two of them at random. It also would have helped Ray's storyline if we had seen his neighbor at any point in the last few episodes. That last scene with Ray and his neighbor talking about why he hires prostitutes was kind of nice, but would have been helped if we'd seen the guy at all prior to this in this season.
By and large, Hung feels like it's just really, really inept at world-building. It knows that it should create a Detroit filled with different, interesting people and recurring characters, but then it seems to deploy them haphazardly, as though it's realized that it has all of these actors on contract but isn't sure how to weave them throughout the storyline as a whole. "You mean we have to fit Merrin Dungey in there somewhere?" say the writers. "You've contracted her for a number of episodes!" screams HBO. And so then she wanders in toward the end, and it doesn't seem to fit any larger purpose. The individual scenes and moments in Hung are mostly well-executed, but they ultimately seem to fly all over the place. It's a show with no center.
- On the other hand, Mike is still romancing Francis and is also, apparently, a helluva jazz pianist.
- I'm trying to think of whom I would keep on this show to make it better, since the cast is kind of all over the place. Right now, I know I'd keep Tanya and Jessica's mom. I guess I'd keep Ray, too, since his huge penis makes all things possible. So those three and let's throw in Mike. I have no idea what this show would look like, but I'd watch it.
- I did like the first bit of the book club scene. A great parody of that kind of discussion.
- "I have no idea where hummus comes from."
- "The cannibalism was very unappealing."