Ladies and gentlemen, we now have definitive proof that the presence and absence of Lennie James within a show’s cast directly impacts the quality of the program.
Last week, Charlie was gone, and the episode kinda sorta sucked. This week, Charlie came back, and the episode was, at least in my opinion, the best of the season. Coincidence? I think not. Now, granted, Charlie also left again, so maybe next week will kinda sorta suck again. At present, however, I’m still riding on the romantic high I got out of the proceedings, so that’s where I’d prefer for my focus to remain for the time being.
Actually, as much as I’d love to be able to attribute all of the episode’s success to Mr. James’s efforts in front of the camera, I think it would be behoove us to lavish a bit of praise on the man behind the camera as well, whose deft touch with matters of romance served the material so well that I have to believe that Mr. Lipkin and Ms. Burson said, “God bless our regular directors, but we need a ringer for this one.”
Enter Howard Deutch.
In a bit of odd coincidence, I went straight from watching Pretty in Pink to screening tonight’s episode of Hung, so I did an actual double-take when I saw Mr. Deutch’s name for the second time in two hours. I’ve got to say, I’ve never understood what happened with that guy’s career: he started off about as strong as a director in the ‘80s possibly could have – his first three films were Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and The Great Outdoors – but after the underrated Article 99, his street cred went into freefall, with his later credits including a Macaulay Culkin flick (Getting Even with Dad), a string of subpar sequels (Grumpier Old Men, The Odd Couple II, and The Whole Ten Yards), and a Dane Cook movie (My Best Friend’s Girl). That’s just sad. Mind you, Deutch probably hasn’t cried himself to sleep a day since 1989, when he married Lea Thompson at the height of her hotness, but even so, you’d like to think that the man responsible for Pretty in Pink deserves better than having to direct Dane goddamned Cook.
And so he does. And so he proved it tonight.
Ray’s running a chainsaw as Tanya’s running after Charlie’s kids, but as they head for the dock, she stops to give Ray a good wallop with her purse as partial payback for the punch in the snoot he delivered to Jason last week. With Ray having “damaged the merchandise,” as Tanya puts it, Jason might not be out of commission, but nor is he exactly the primo gigolo that was originally pitched to the clientele. Ray, of course, puffs up his chest and assures Tanya that he’s more than enough man to fill in for Jason, twenty year age difference be damned…and, say, what do you know? He’s right!
Bursting with testosterone, Ray returns home and, in addition to playing Super Dad to the twins by helping them study, greets Jessica with fresh coffee, a tasty coffee cake, and all the charisma he can muster, hoping that he can convince her to attend Frances and Mike’s wedding with him. He can’t. It’s pretty clear to us at this point that she’s worked out the connection between Ray and Jason, but Ray seems so focused on trying to sway her back into his loving arms that he isn’t entirely aware of why she’s asked him how Jason knew his name.
Meanwhile, in the midst of Ray rediscovering his manhood in a major fashion, not only is Tanya fretting about the fact that she hasn’t been invited to Frances and Mike’s wedding, but she also still has to deal with Charlie’s kids. I’d be hard pressed to come up with a more ineffectual mother figure than Tanya, but after spending so much time unable to get them to listen to her, she finally stumbles upon a surprisingly simple way to soothe the savage beasts: by counting to three and offering to read them a story.
Seeing Tanya suddenly find her inner mother was both sweet and sad, given that the kids’ mother turned up to take them away bright and early the next morning, but things grew even more depressing when, while attempting to give them a sentimental parting gift (the copy of The Velveteen Rabbit that she’d read to them), she discovers that it isn’t just their mother who’s come to pick them up.
I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Charlie, given that Tanya pointedly repeated the minivan’s license plate number over and over, but if he never shows his face again, you can’t say he didn’t offer a great farewell speech. James nailed the necessary tone, revealing just enough emotion to indicate that he really did have feelings for Tanya while still underlining the ultimate moral to the story: “What did you expect from a relationship with a pimp?”
And so we come to the wedding of Frances and Mike, an event which, despite way too little set-up throughout the course of this season, still proved to be a success from a story standpoint. The moment when Ray placed his hand upon Tanya’s knee to indicate that he really was sorry about the way the Charlie situation had ended was extremely sweet, but I was seriously sweating the possibility that Tanya’s refusal to stop talking during the ceremony was going to result in the whole thing coming to a standstill. (Thank God they didn’t fall back on that old cliché. I would’ve docked them half a grade for that alone.)
It was perfectly in character for Tanya to be unable to just keep her mouth shut and enjoy the couple’s happiness, instead feeling obliged to repeatedly identify herself as the one who brought them together. When Jessica showed up, however, the tone of the proceedings began to change, eventually offering a payoff that’s been building for the better part of three seasons. I honestly don’t know which speech was better: Jessica and Tanya, Tanya and Ray, or Ray and Jessica. All of them resulted in strong, powerful moments that I really enjoyed.
I don’t know how I feel about next week’s season finale. All things being equal, I can’t really imagine a more satisfying ending than the one we got this week, but I’m sure we’ll be seeing Lenore again, not to mention Sandee setting up some sort of payback for Ray knocking the fuck out of her fiancée. Maybe Tanya will go ahead and try to get in touch with Charlie…or, hell, as a woman scorned, maybe she’ll just give the license plate number to the police, so as to lessen the trouble she’ll have to deal with for having him skip town. No matter what happens, though, I’m hard pressed to believe that it’ll top tonight. But I reckon we’ll see soon enough.
Random quotes and observations:
- “I have forgotten more about fucking than that guy will ever learn.”
- “Tanya, you’re a pimp. Pimps don’t get invited to weddings.”
- “I hate weddings, anyway. They’re fucking misogynistic, antiquated bullshit.”
- “Babies are cute. Puppies are cute. I’m not cute.”
- “One man’s injury is another man’s $600.”
- I don’t know which test Damon thinks was devised by the Nazis, but no matter which one it is, I’m still pretty sure he’s wrong.
- “If you got something to say, say it, but I got my kids in the car, and I ain’t no ‘motherfucker’ in front of my kids.”
- The look on Charlie’s face when Tanya said “don’t jive me” was positively priceless.
- “You know, we do the best we can, Tanya, and then we die. That is all we can do.”
- I rather expect Tanya’s not going to be able to resist admitting to Sandee and Jason that she was wrong about them having taken the shoebox of money.
- “You don’t have to say anything. Just go to her. It’s gonna be okay.”
- Alas, I don’t have the footage of Gregg Henry performing “I’m Old Fashioned,” so to close things out, we’ll just have to settle for John Coltrane playing it instead…like that’s really settling.