In its second episode, Hung steps outside of the narrowness of its premise and starts to build its universe. It’s not quite as immediately arresting as the series pilot, but it’s a good episode for letting us know that this is a series that knows where it’s going and what it’s doing. There are a few missteps here, but for the most part, the series is moving with confidence, and that’s a good thing this early in the game.
The best sign that Dmitry Lipkin, Colette Burson and their writers know what they’re doing is just how much of this episode is focused on the relationship between Ray and Tanya. The scenes between Thomas Jane and Jane Adams were the highlight of the pilot, and they’re the highlight of this episode, be it phone conversations between the two about their business plans, a planning session in a local breakfast place or a scene where Tanya teaches Ray better ways to approach his technique with the ladies. All of these scenes are warm and hilarious and suggest that Lipkin and his creative staff have figured out the best ways to approach both characters. (Though I don’t know that Home Depot has that great of sausage, Ray.)
What makes this relationship work, I think, is that Ray is your classic, taciturn American male. He’s not so much going to tell you how he feels or declaim about the state of affairs in the United States outside of voiceover. He’s the strong, silent type, flummoxed by the way the world has turned and left him in a Detroit and an America that’s utterly falling apart. The sequence where Ray talks about his adjustable-rate mortgage and how it’s tied him to a life he increasingly finds unlivable is one of the better expressions of how home ownership can turn into a trap for the owners if they’re not careful that I’ve seen on TV, where most of the characters just own houses or cool apartments and never have to think about how they’re going to afford them.
Tanya, meanwhile, is still an idealist. She believes in things like trying to make people happy or providing them with a little inspiration by baking some poetry into some bed or things like that. At the same time, she’s just as battered by the bad economy as Ray is. That MFA isn’t really working out for her like she’d hoped it would, and she bounces between temp jobs that get worse and worse, checking spelling and grammar and making sure that bank collapses go through with excellent written English. She’s on the edge of catastrophe, and when she tells Ray she wants to make a million dollars, it’s less because she thinks they’re capable of it and more because she has to have some hope to cling to.
The Ray and Tanya dynamic is a vital, complicated one to build a show around. The fact that they’ve slept together before and are now trying to put together a business complicates things in interesting and prickly ways, like in that scene where Tanya insists she get to train Ray in how he approaches a woman, where the two feed of the strange chemistry the actors share (though seeing Tanya’s reaction to Ray showing up at her door and saying, “Hey, baby” was almost enough for the whole episode to coast off of). Is Tanya’s hope that the two will be pulling in thousands per night in the future at all reasonable, especially in recession-smacked Detroit, especially when her gigolo isn’t yet sure how far he’s willing to go (and here’s hoping the series soon tackles the issue of whether Ray’s going to be sleeping with other men, where most of the money in male prostitution is at). But Tanya clings to her hopes with a smile on her face. I wouldn’t call her an incorrigible optimist, but she’s certainly able to find the sunshine in some pretty dark places.
She’s also got a savvy mind for planning these sorts of things. Her idea to hook Ray up with her acquaintance Lenore, a woman who’s a personal shopper for rich, older women, is a good one. Theoretically, she could recommend him to her clients, and after the two hook up and she seems relatively pleased, it seems as though Ray will have a good shot at it. Rebecca Creskoff plays Lenore as a thoroughly self-involved, brittle woman. She’s not your stereotypical bitch, however, staying just on the right side of the line between caricature and actual person. Lenore isn’t actively trying to hurt those around her; she’s just oblivious to their needs. (Though I’m still a bit uncertain about the idea that she might have stole Ray’s wallet and stuff. That could tip her over into too hateful.) Creskoff’s performance keeps this woman comedic when she could be too shrewish, and that’s worth plenty. Also, this whole storyline deserves bonus points for the scene where Lenore asks Ray to dance, which is the funniest thing this show has done yet.
Meanwhile, there’s Jessica, her husband and the kids. The episode suggests that there are depths to Jessica that haven’t quite been dug into yet (like her concern that she’s a bad person, which shows some degree of self-awareness most stereotypical ex-wives don’t have), but everything about the character plays so readily into the idea of the ex-wife who just comes around to ruin your life that it makes my skin almost crawl. Her relationship with her kids seems rather forced (and I get that that’s the point), which makes scenes between all of them seem like something to be endured. At the same time, the scenes with her new husband are similarly problematic. Just look at how that scene with him where she wonders if she’s a bad person is undercut by the way he gives her Botox injections and the way she yells at the maid (and if I never have to see another rich woman on TV yell at a maid to indicate that she’s actually got a black heart, I will be very pleased). This is all straight out of a very cliché playbook, and I don’t have high hopes for where they’re taking it.
Put another way: Lipkin, Burson and their staff seem to have a good degree of openness toward most of the characters on the show, but they seem a bit too hateful toward Jessica. Hopefully, that will all shift in the weeks to come, but if it doesn’t, at least we know the show has the thoroughly intriguing Ray and Tanya relationship to fall back on. That one seems like it’ll have some staying power.
- This show has excellent location scouting. That restaurant that Ray and Tanya went to to talk business looked like every drab little breakfast place in the Midwest rolled up into one.
- “No, Mike. Basketball is more important than art.”