I watched this episode of Hung a few days ago, found it to be the best episode of the season so far, then put off writing about it because, well, I was at Comic-Con, and I thought I had better things to do. Then I sat down to write up the episode Saturday night and realized I remembered nothing about it. I pulled up my trusty notes file and, yeah, I could remember most of those scenes existing, but only in the abstract, as if this was an episode of Hung that I read the shooting script for and imagined in the abstract. So I watched the episode again, still enjoyed it (though less so this time), then promptly fell asleep two sentences into the write-up. I planned to complete the piece throughout the day and make sure it got posted before the episode aired. Then I realized I still had no idea what had happened and could only remember the episode in the abstract.
What is it about this show that makes it so easily forgettable? As I've mentioned from week to week, I like many elements of the show, and I genuinely love its two central performances. But everything about the show feels generic, off-brand, as though HBO went down to the Costco and bought a bulk load of parts that could be assembled into vaguely funny, quirky dramedies and then assembled a bunch of them in different iterations. (And, to be fair, Showtime did a far more blatantly obvious job of this over the past few years.) All of these shows have good elements. Some of them have great elements - like Thomas Jane and Jane Adams here. But not one of them seems to have anything like an original voice, someone who's trying desperately to say something.
The worst thing about all of this is that there are numerous scenes within Hung, in every episode, indeed, that seem like they're going to be pointing toward a voice of the show's own. The scene where Tanya performs her poem at the poetry jam, for instance, is one of those scenes. Tanya's an interesting character because she's never learned how to assert herself, but her new career means that she has to start asserting herself, to start asking for what it is that she truly wants. She's been having trouble doing so up until this point, but in this scene, we see that start to turn, as she finally demands of the audience that they repeat what she says back to her and they finally oblige. It's a strikingly acted scene by Adams, who seems on the verge of tears throughout, and its tone wavers confidently between funny (since the poem is so overwrought and Tanya is so desperate) and tragic (since the poem is so overwrought and Tanya is so desperate). It's a good scene, and it feels like it could be a step forward for the show, a step toward finally declaring itself as a show about people who come into their own identities.
But then the show ends with a rather nondescript scene where Ray just watches his son laugh along with Tanya and the other poets and then walks off alone down the alley. What is this trying to say? That Ray's son is very different from Ray and he's realizing that with some poignancy? OK. That's fine, and it's not the worst scene in the show, but it's also one that we've seen in literally every episode featuring the kids since the show began. The characters' situations change, but they keep repeating the same thematic beats over and over and over. This is sort of like the pay cable equivalent of a crime procedural where the characters just solve the same cases over and over and over. Now, because I like these kinds of shows, I'll cut them a lot of slack, but I also tend to fall out of love with them really fast and forget them really fast. I think that's what's happening here.
After I got home from Comic-Con—which takes forever and I should have just taken the train—I watched the episode one last time, and I'm hurrying to write it up before it all slips out of my brain. The reason this episode is so hard to remember is because literally every scene but the Tanya one (which is a variation on a scene we've seen before but also a moment of progression for that character, something rare on this show) is a repeat of a scene we've seen before in a new context. Eventually, the scenes all blend together. A woman wants to have kooky sex? We've been there. Jessica's husband of the unmemorable name gets upset about how little his wife loves him when he works so hard to give her a good life? We've done that, and we also saw it all in American Beauty and LITERALLY EVERY OTHER SUBURBAN MOVIE OR TV SERIES. (I will admit, however, that I liked the way Jessica's mom looked so terrified that he would find she was eating his oatmeal.) Lenore being Lenore? Yeah, that's getting old too, and quickly.
Again, I did like this episode, for the most part. Watching it again, I can see why that was. I laughed more times than I usually do at Hung, and I thought the episode's various storylines coalesced and worked together more than they usually do. I'm not wild about Jessica and husband-to-be-named-later fighting over having a baby, but I find it mostly in character. But at the same time, every episode of this show feels like the creative team goes to the fridge, finds the leftovers from the first four episodes, then combines them in new ways. And it's running out of ways to make those old, cold leftovers taste like anything other than the stale masses of glop that they are at this point.
At this point, Hung hasn't done anything unexpected, anything that really made me say, "Hey, that's interesting," since its fourth episode (with the wonderful Margo Martindale scenes). I don't mind a predictable narrative—which I figure this is turning into, since the steps for Jessica becoming a client of Ray's (and maybe getting pregnant by him) have been slowly laid out since episode two or something—but if you're going to be predictable on that level, then you need to have characters capable of surprising the audience and themselves or strong themes that can turn on a dime and illuminate the people and situations on the series. Hung hasn't done that in ages, and I'm starting to fear it's going to become incapable of doing that again.
- I've been trying to think of ways to make this show funnier and failing. But I think Lennie James should get a larger part. And I think every episode should have a madcap car chase, a la It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Ray should have a penis-shaped car called the Dickmobile, and Tanya could fly a hang glider or something. Just drop a scene like this in the middle of the Detroit economic malaise, and you're good!
- "You urinated on America's pastime, son!"
- "I'm a poet, a temp, and a pimp. I laminated my poem on a laminator at CostCo."