Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Hung: "Even Steven or The Luckiest Kid in Detroit"

Illustration for article titled Hung: "Even Steven or The Luckiest Kid in Detroit"

When I found out that Hung would be coming back for a third season - not after a last-second renewal but practically after a last-second one - I'll admit that I groaned. There's nothing saying I have to cover the show next season or anything, but I had hoped that the series would go away so I could stop thinking about it and so some other, perhaps hungrier, creators could take over the time slot and try to make something of it. I was ready to write off Hung as an interesting experiment that hadn't really worked in its second season. But tonight, the show went ahead and made a finale that didn't right the wrongs of season two but more or less made sense, almost to the point where it kind of seemed like the whole season was conceived with this finale in mind, even if many of the threads were dropped along the way.

In the best scene of the season and perhaps the series - a final conversation between Ray and Tanya about their work with Happiness Consultants sitting at the end of the dock outside of his house - Tanya said that they had tried to do a good thing with Happiness Consultants before they forgot about the whole "making women happy" thing, and, honestly, while that would have been a compelling throughline for the season, I'm not sure that it necessarily follows from what we've seen. The problems Ray and Tanya have confronted haven't really been in their business this season but inside themselves. Again, that's not a half-bad tack to take, but it's been applied inconsistently. There's a scene here where Tanya once again visits her mother to have an argument with her (about, among other things, how Tanya didn't enjoy The Seventh Seal as a young child), and it feels dropped in from another season entirely. I get that one of the central ideas of Tanya's character last season was that she was unable to deal with her mother, but the show has mostly gotten rid of this this season, until it can afford Rhea Perlman (or something), and then the whole thing comes roaring back.

The more I look at the second season of Hung, the more I think that what's happening is the show's creators (Dmitri Lipkin and Collette Burson, pictured above) wanting to drag the show back toward their conception of what it was, and the show evolving in a completely different direction. I don't think the creators' impulses are the worst in the world. Every time they reorient the show around the economy again, the show sparks back to life. But for the most part, they keep introducing elements I've mostly forgotten about, continually trying to make something stick. Every time the show seems to be heading off toward some fun, new plot - like Mike and Frances' relationship - there will be a random scene where it reminds us about Tanya's relationship with her mom or Ray's kids' weird relationship or some other element entirely. Everything feels stuck together with random bits of wood glue.

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the finale. I think it builds up a nice head of steam, and I really liked the final ten minutes or so. I don't like every turn here - I have no idea what that scene where the friend we barely know gives Ronnie a hand job was doing in there - but I think that this mostly hangs together as an episode of TV. The story of how Jessica hooks up with Ray and then realizes that she doesn't terribly want either man and the way that it makes her kids even more miserable is well-done, and the scenes where Ray and Jessica hook up in the lake are seductively shot. It's easy to see, for once, just why Ray would like to disappear back into his old life and how he might finally have made enough steps as a person to welcome his family back into his life. I also liked the scene where his kids bemoan their status as orphans and their hopeful attempts to have a barbecue with their dad. This is all stuff that might have worked better if the show had done more with the "Ray wants his family back" theme throughout.

But the episode kept wandering down paths that it didn't really need to go down. After a promising start with Lenore this season, she became a character who was all over the map. Her bitchiness, at least, was fairly consistent, but her motivations seemed to drift all over the place. Similarly, the episode reintroduced the idea that Ray's neighbor wants to buy his house out from under him, even though that idea's been backburnered for a long-ass time. Obviously, it's not a horrible thing to take a plot point and shift it way to the back, bringing it back at a surprising moment. But it needs to be done in a dramatically satisfying way, and here, it just kind of returned, as though the writers remembered they had that particular plot point and could sort of slide it into this episode.

More than anything else, this episode felt like it was uncertain about whether or not it was going to be a series finale or a season finale. That's probably the case. I can't imagine that anyone who works on the show knew the future of where the show would go when they filmed the finale, so they just threw a bunch of stuff they'd been sitting on into the episode. And maybe that "Everybody in!" approach to the finale is what appealed to me about the episode, because the more I think about it, the more I realize that the storytelling in the episode and the season was a bust. And yet, I like the sense that everything that's happening here was kind of crazy and all over the place.


Season two of Hung was a mess, but it didn't have to be. In pretty much every episode, there would be moments that reminded me of the show that I really enjoyed in season one, but there would also be moments where things just sort of happened, and there was no real good reason for them to be happening. The plotting was haphazard, the characters just kind of did stuff for no real reason, the producers relied far too much on things like kooky music and weird situations to drive the laughs. I keep giving this show grades in the B range because I don't really hate it as I'm watching it. It slides by easily enough, and the actors make it all watchable. But the more I think about the show as an episode or as a season, the more I realize it just doesn't work. Hung is the worst kind of TV: TV that purposely hopes you don't think too hard about it.

Stray observations:

  • I liked the efforts of the various characters to hook Mike and Francis up again. That was the one plotline that season that more or less made sense from beginning to end, though I have no idea why Mike isn't more probing about just what it is that Ray does.
  • I have no idea if I'm going to cover this show next summer when it returns. I'm sure I'll cover the premiere or something. It IS incredibly easy to watch. It's just an immense struggle to find things to say about.
  • Grade's for the season. If I had to give the episode a grade, it'd probably be, you guessed it, a B.