After spending a few weeks letting us know all about Ray and his magic penis and how that gets him into and out of scrapes, Hung goes back to focusing on Tanya tonight, relegating Ray to a subplot that feels a little strung out, sad to say. It’s nice to have the focus on Tanya, but it would also be nice to see the two of them share some screen time again, since their scenes together are generally the best things in any given episode of the show. At the same time, giving us a little while to get to know Tanya on a character level and meeting her mother (played by Rhea Perlman, as suspected) deepens the woman and puts her eternally cracking optimism into a new frame of reference.
But let’s start with Ray because his stuff was a little weak this week. I get that he’s kind of a doofus and that he doesn’t always grasp the particulars of situations, but you’d think he would be getting the hint about Jemma after she left him money after what seemed to him like a date. That she continued to mostly dodge him throughout the rest of the episode probably should have struck him as unusual, but he seems pretty much wrapped around her finger. And, yeah, she’s a gorgeous, leggy blonde, but Ray’s inability to grasp what’s going on here is dancing perilously close to falling over the edge of making me think he’s too dumb to find sympathetic.
Ray’s on his own to find new clients as well, as Tanya both fumes about how the Jemma thing has been spiraling out of control and deals with her own stuff. Ray decides to go find some new clients at the farmer’s market, and he’s simply unable to, perhaps because he’s incapable of looking for anyone who isn’t conventionally attractive. Indeed, he hits on his ex-wife at one point before he realizes what he’s doing, but she invites him over for dinner. I’m still on the fence about the fact that Ray seems to sleep mostly with very attractive women. The show is doing a good job of making these attractive women somehow unappealing to your average straight male (too much baggage, too much to handle, etc.), even if it occasionally seems a bit condescending to these characters, but if the show ever makes a point of having women start crawling out of the woodwork to pay to sleep with him, I don’t think it would work. The show’s a fantasy, yeah, but it needs to be grounded in some sort of reality, and women that hot don’t pay for sex.
Ray also hooked up with his neighbor’s wife finally, after the cookie drop-off from a few weeks ago found her reading the messages in cookies Tanya had left for Ray to find. This was another scene that will likely anger critics of the show who claim it’s a bit too lasseiz-faire about female nudity when compared to not showing us Ray’s penis. I’ve said in the past that I find the decision to show us nothing of Ray’s crotch fairly defensible, but when the show just tosses in breasts here and there, it occasionally feels like the show doesn’t terribly grasp some of what it’s about. I don’t know that every show on the dial needs to adopt the True Blood equal opportunity nudity policy, but if this show is going to leave Ray to the imagination, it might be a good idea to leave even more to the imagination.
So let’s move on to Tanya, who had the best stuff in the episode, to the point where it felt sort of unbalanced in places. Tanya’s issues with her mother weren’t the most original issues ever, but the way she worked through those issues – by taking a weird voyage through her childhood with the help of Pierce, a guy she met in a bar – was fairly winning. I tend to love scenes in television series where a character visits their childhood bedroom. It places that character in a new context and reveals a little something about who they were at their most vulnerable. For the already vulnerable Tanya, though, a visit to her childhood bedroom, complete with embarrassing stories about dry humping one of the neighbor boys, prompted a series of revelations that led to her standing up to her mother. Or at least trying to.
I can see where casting Rhea Perlman as some sort of intellectual feels like casting against type, but I still liked her quite a bit in the part. Perlman’s been out of the regular acting game for way too long since her heyday on Cheers, and she and Jane Adams have an instantly brittle chemistry that says almost as much about who Tanya was as a child as anything she could say to Pierce about it. The long parade of humiliations visited on Tanya (in this episode alone, she confronted her mother, went drinking in a bar and became convinced she was hallucinating Pierce and discovered Floyd was hitting on another one of his students) would likely be feeling a bit flagellation-y at this point were it not for the way Adams essays the character, but she makes both Tanya’s vulnerability and her increasingly prominent spine feel like they can co-exist in the same character.
All of this built to that wonderfully squirmy scene where Tanya read a poem about her mother (focused on ants, of all things) and then her mom opened the floor to the other attendees of the dinner party to critique the poem, apparently unwilling or unable to see what her own daughter was saying about her. The framing in this scene was terrific, from the bearded guy sitting off to the side of Tanya’s mom, to the way Tanya seemed to be the center of attention in any given scene but was gradually revealed not to be. The critiques grew from there to a woman from Uganda singing a song that she said expressed similar emotions, only in Swahili, and everything collapsed from there, as Tanya had to admit that the poem she read she wrote when she was 14. Despite Pierce’s insistence that it was pretty good for 14, she knew the truth and knew that her writer’s block might not be just a block but some weird way of life.
Hung has its fairy tale elements, but at some level, it’s also a show about what you do when you realize that plan A hasn’t panned out. Ray, of course, has found a fairly bizarre way of dealing with this, but everyone on the show is dealing with the fact that their plan A’s are out of whack and their plan B’s aren’t necessarily what they wanted anyway. Tanya’s facing the fact that even though she says she’s a poet, she isn’t really one, and she’s confronted with that question that destroys even the hardiest of souls: Now what?
- If this season ends with Ray and Jessica hooking up again, I will be tremendously disappointed.
- This episode felt a little claustrophobic, probably because so few of the regulars took part in the episode. (I think only Ray, Tanya and Jessica were present.)
- "That is one beautiful penis."