See, if this had been the season premiere of Hung, I wouldn't be so down on the season as a whole. It wasn't a perfect episode, by any means, but it felt like it was going somewhere, most of the plots made a vague kind of sense, and the characters were all more or less dynamic. I'm not going to jump on board a bandwagon proclaiming Hung to be back or anything like that, but I enjoyed tonight's episode, and I'm not ashamed to admit that. Well, I'm not sure that simply using the word "beaver" over and over and over is as funny as the show seemed to think it was, but that's a trap a lot of comedies fall into, though rarely with the word "beaver."
How much of the episode's verve was due to special guest director Lisa Cholodenko? I don't want to overstate her importance, but I'm tempted to say, "All of it," even as I know that's basically impossible. Even as this episode was longer than most of this season's episodes, it felt like it moved more quickly, and it had some strikingly shot sequences. I was particularly taken with the sequence where Jessica had to go into the basement to see what was making all of that noise and saw the beaver's tail escaping into the shadows. I liked the way that the flashlight ended up being the dominant source of light, casting shadows of Jessica's hands all over, the way that it all seemed like it was filmed like a horror movie. Beyond this, Cholodenko didn't really step out of the usual TV shot selection, but it felt like she got some better performances out of the actors than recent directors have. She's pretty busy with a thriving movie career, but if Cholodenko wanted to come back for two or three episodes per season, I would not be opposed.
Furthermore, I enjoy the plot of this episode, which may as well be expressed as Assistant Coach Mike: Accidental Whore. Francis (last week's rich widow/great white whale) is so taken with the way Mike treated her at dinner that she assumes it was all part of Tanya's act, that Mike is another one of her whores. So when she books Mike for another date for $1,500, Tanya is wracked by guilt for a while, but she soon realizes that she's willing to make money however it takes. Naturally, this is going to backfire at one point or another, but for now, it's fun to watch as Tanya's growing sense of self-worth collides with the fact that her most important client obviously thinks a man who isn't her prostitute is her prostitute.
By and large, the question of whether or not anyone will discover Ray's secret has seemed pretty unimportant to Hung, with the show choosing to focus more on dry comedy and evocations of the recession. But the series has been keeping Ray's secret from all of the most important people in his life for a reason, and I suppose that this season may as well start to unravel that secret. Honestly, if Mike becomes a part of the organization willingly, that's not the worst idea in the world, since it could be fun to see just how his approach differs from Ray's by being more sincere. On the other hand, the reason he's able to be sincere is because he's honestly falling for a woman, who doesn't know that their game is real. It's an interesting dynamic, and I hope the show teases it out a little bit more because it's the first really interesting dynamic the show has had this season.
Meanwhile, Ray, who's been wondering just what Mike has that he doesn't, meets with a woman Lenore knows, who turns out to be Francie from Alias (Merrin Dungey, playing a character named Liz). Dungey's fun as a woman who just doesn't like sex and thinks that perhaps Ray's the one to give her the satisfaction her other friends feel. Plus, he gets bonus points for being a guy whom most of her friends are distinctly unlikely to run into, which will give her more of a sense of breaking with her true, non-sex-loving self. Of course, since this episode seems to be all about emphasizing about how Ray is unable to perform in any way, shape, or form, he's unable to give Liz what she needs, and there's even more disappointment to go around.
But if Ray isn't getting what he wants, the season increasingly seems to be about Tanya getting what she wants. When she pays for the expensive birthday dinner that her mother is having, it's to rub in her mother's face just how successful she is. (To be fair, this all would have played off a lot better if we had gotten more of a sense of how her mother was still plaguing her this season and just how successful she and Ray have been prior to this.) Tanya's slow evolution has been one of the few things this series has done right this season, and watching her debate with Lennie James about what to do with the money and realizing she had already decided to keep it, to some degree, was another highlight of the episode. Having Tanya suddenly go crazy spending money isn't the most creative plotline in the world, but at least it's about something other than how life beats her down. Making someone who's always been beaten down a success is generally a good recipe for drama on a show like this, and I think this is a good idea.
On the other hand, much of the episode focused on Jessica and Ronnie trying to get rid of the beaver she saw in the basement of their house, and this was a less successful storyline. It had some good laughs in it, but at some point, it seemed like it was supposed to be some sort of subtextual storyline about how the two men acted as husbands to Jessica and just how they approach her now that Ray and Jessica's marriage is over. Blending all of this with a long list of lines where people said "beaver" a lot wasn't the most subtle approach to humor, and I kind of get tired of the way that the show always comes down on the side of Ray when it comes to these debates, as with the final scene, where Ronnie had to go off and kill the beaver after all in the end.
So I wouldn't say that this episode of Hung made me enthralled for next week's episode or anything like that, but I think it was a solid piece of work, all the same. It reminded me a little of the show I really enjoyed last season, and I hope that the show continues with this rather than having a bunch of episodes where pretty much nothing happens. Mike the Accidental Whore is a compelling idea, and I like the show calling into question just what it is that Ray doesn't have that the other men around him do have, even as I wish the show wouldn't so relentlessly side with its own main character. Oh, and Tanya too! Let's keep up with that. So, not a work of genius, but a solid improvement.
- I could watch Gregg Henry bumble around a teachers' lounge, messing up making coffee, all episode.
- I did like the very last moments of the Liz storyline, when she said she was paying for it and wanted to quit, then got sad at the idea of being a human ice cube. Again, the client storylines are more interesting than just about anything else. I also like that all of them seem like elaborate puzzles in Leisure Suit Larry games.
- Lenore teases out that Jessica obviously still has feelings for Ray. Who knows what Lenore will do with this information? Probably nothing good.
- "Ron, I am not bringing a baby into a house full of beavers!"