By far the most interesting relationship in Hung is the relationship between Tanya and Ray. Part of the reason the second season has felt like such a disappointment - well, one of MANY reasons - is because Tanya and Ray have shared very little screen time. Instead, the show has abruptly pivoted to having Tanya and Lenore and Ray and Jessica be the most important relationships. This might work if either relationship were as interesting as Tanya and Ray, but the one between Tanya and Lenore is only fitfully interesting (and then only because of the actresses involved), and the one between Ray and Jessica is something you can see in millions of other fictional works. Obviously, originality shouldn't be paramount, but if you're going to have a show that's mostly executed like every other sorta-comedy on the air, it'd be nice if there were a twist or two in there.
Anyway, I guess I liked the fact that the story seems to be heading somewhere at this point. This is going to be the Tanya season, it would seem, as she's trying to figure out how to assert herself more readily. But the fact that Tanya is SO spineless feels too pronounced. She was spineless last season, but not to the point where she'd simply allow Lenore to swoop in and take all of her cash and Ray and not really do anything about it. I feel like in the last three episodes (stretching back to last year's finale), they've made Tanya such a wimp that she's basically unbelievable as a character any more. Would any woman anywhere ever put up with this? I get that it's a comedy, but it's also a show that is trying to do some really realistic material about the effect of the recession or a man realizing he loved his ex-wife too late. The tonal shifts from Tanya yelling cartoonishly in the parking lot to her being portrayed more realistically are often just too much.
But I do like that the show has finally gotten around to pushing her toward assertiveness. I didn't mind spineless Tanya, but if the show is going to go anywhere from here instead of just having weekly plots about sex addicts or something, it's going to need to have Tanya having some degree of power. Now, this being Hung, I'm sure Lenore will again figure out a way to get the best of Tanya (as she does this week), but Tanya starting to think proactively is probably a good thing for the show. Even though it came at the end of a really overwritten, really over-acted scene, I was pleased to see Tanya kidnap the dog from Lenore. As much as I enjoy Lenore as a character who can say or do anything, having both Ray and Tanya get pushed around by her without any real pushback is getting irritating. The best comic relationships have a push and pull, and so far, Lenore is all push, with no real pull back.
Meanwhile, Ray doesn't really have a lot to do. He has sex with Horny Patty again and laments how being the good guy has its price. He goes jogging with his kids (and they finally point out that they must have really lost the genetic lottery to be HIS KIDS, a nice little inside joke). He buys new uniforms for the baseball team. And he takes Tanya out to the movies with his kids. I like the scene where he tries to buck up Tanya because, again, this is the most interesting relationship on the show, and the two have a kind of casual confidence around each other. Indeed, I'd say the movie theater scene was the first scene this season where I really let go and just enjoyed Hung. Having the kids and Ray wondering what kind of movie this is, then Tanya telling Ray to look for the deeper meaning (and having him repeat that to his kids) was fun, and I liked the occasional cutaways to what was going on on-screen as the little group talked. It was a scene that didn't push its tone too hard and mostly just let the character exist in the moment, and it made me like the characters again, or at least remember what I had liked about them before.
I realize that to grow, TV shows have to get beyond the relationships that defined them in their early days or at least evolve those relationships. Since there's not a lot of room to push Ray and Tanya forward - I suppose they could become a couple, but that doesn't seem like it would shake things up that much - the show needs to focus on other relationships. But the problem is that every character outside of Ray and Tanya is a stereotype of one sort or another. The show is doing a good job of evolving Jessica, but that's a slow process, and she's not yet really ready to share the screen with either of the main characters. Similarly, Ray's kids are ciphers, and Jessica's husband is just a nebbish-y obstacle for the characters to overcome on the road to their inevitable but ill-advised reunion. None of these people feel like real people but like comedic caricatures, and that upsets the balance of the show.
So the series keeps going back to Lenore, who increasingly seems like an insane supervillain of one sort or another. Again, I like Lenore. I laugh at Lenore more than any other character. But there have to be limits to her evil, or we'll never believe that Tanya can best her. Lenore having bought a new dog? Funny. Lenore sneaking into Tanya's apartment and switching her $1800 sweater with a knockoff? Less believable and potentially really disturbing. Yeah, it's a thin line the producers are trying to walk with the Lenore character, and yeah, she's the one character you can push this far and still make believable and funny. But I still find her to be more of a catalyst than a character. She's the one who pushes and pushes until the other people break. I'm not asking for big, introspective scenes in her private life or anything, but a little context might be nice.
Still, this is the first episode of the season where it feels like there's even the tiniest bit of momentum. Now that Lenore and Ray know that they both know Jessica, it's pretty obvious that this is going to be used as a tug-of-war for the rest of the season. And, honestly, I could see that being pretty funny. But there's no reason the events and jokes of the first three episodes couldn't have been condensed into one. I don't mind a meandering plotline or a lackadaisical approach to theme and tone. But you've gotta have the goods to back it up, and too often, Hung just sits there, waiting for something new to happen.
- This is easily the best show I've seen this week to so prominently feature maggots.
- Lord, I hate the Jessica's husband character. He's just such a pointless stereotype. And now he wants to have a kid?
- Say what you will about Thomas Jane and the show's general inability to give Ray consistent plotting, the man can deliver a punchline as that character.
- "Paulie K.? I was never shortstop!"
- "Everybody looks at you and mom and wonders where we came from."
- "You two look like twins!"