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

Hung: "Third Base or the Rash"

Illustration for article titled Hung: "Third Base or the Rash"

My general lack of interest in Hung this season has spread, like a bad disease, to the comments section, where very few of you talk about the show on a week to week basis. Last week, I was able to provoke at least a few more of you into sharing your thoughts by talking about nudity (always a conversation starter!), so this week, I thought we'd talk a bit about that other good topic of conversation in every TV thread: cancellation. You see, Hung is the one show out of HBO's lineup that hasn't received a renewal. Now, HBO is not horribly dependent on ratings, and I genuinely have no idea if the ratings for this show are terrible. They must seem to be, when compared to True Blood, but, frankly, everything on HBO seems terrible when its ratings are compared to True Blood, and HBO programs its schedule less to have flow between programs and more to have a diverse slate of programs that keep a variety of subscribers interested in the network. It's why niche shows like Big Love - which attracts a healthy number of females to the network - continue to survive.

But Hung hasn't really established itself. Is there someone who only gets HBO to watch Hung? Is there someone who watches it for a reason other than the fact that it's on after True Blood? Does the show have supporters in the critical community? It has none of these things. HBO will hang on to an awful show if it has a vocal fan base - see all those years they kept renewing Arliss - but it won't hang on to a mediocre show if it's not adding much to the network. At this point, it's hard to see why they'd renew Hung again, but it's also hard to see a reason not to renew it. It exists in an almost perfect space, on the bubble, and if the show were going to make a case for its continued existence, well, tonight would be a good time to start.

Honestly, tonight's episode was probably the best of the season, even though it had a fairly rough start. There were the usual embarrassing scenes in the midst of everything - the slow reveal of Jessica's past and her rash are completely uninteresting - and the client scene felt more perfunctory than usual, even as it resulted in the shoulder injury that kept Ray in pain for the rest of the episode. But the whole thing actually built to something - a baseball game - that made it that much more obvious just how listless some of this season's episodes have been. By and large, the plots in this episode were all headed toward the same place, and that at least gave the episode a sense of momentum. Even the clumsy stuff was more excusable within the context of it all pointing toward that final scene. This momentum and sense of clarity has been what the show's been lacking this season, and having it back after being gone so long was bracing.

Look at it this way: If the episode where Mike was accidentally roped into prostitution had been the second episode of the season and this episode had been the third, we'd all think the show was really heading places. Instead, we had several episodes of filler between the two and even more episodes of filler between the season premiere and any point where the story began in earnest. The tale of Mike ending up an accidental prostitute has been the one thing this season that felt like an original idea, and it's the one plot the show has seemed even halfway interested in at times. It was obvious that the truth about what was happening was going to come out at some point, but the show's delaying tactics didn't really add anything to the storytelling but a general sense of incompetence on the part of the writers and the characters.

Tonight, though, everything comes to a head. Tanya, who's been getting greedier and greedier, needs money from Francis for that day she stopped by and saw Mike over at her house. Francis, frustrated by this, pushes Mike away after he asks her to help out with the alumni baseball game/fundraiser. She, understandably, doesn't want to keep giving him cash. Later, at the game, she finally gives him most of the full story on just what's going on (even though she clearly thinks he knows that he's a prostitute, as he should), and his bafflement heads to another level, even as Tanya races over to stop their conversation, then awkwardly scales the outfield wall once the two of them look over at her. It's a nice little development, and I think it could have helped the season even more if Mike had known what he was into earlier, if the season had revolved around Ray and Tanya trying to drag him deeper into their world and also keeping him quiet.

The episode also tries to set up a conflict between Ray and Ronnie, a conflict that's been around since the show began but one that it's been clumsily trying to capitalize on this season. Ray's not ready to get older. He's ready to play in the baseball game until he injures his shoulder trying to pleasure his pregnant client in the bathtub (no, really). So he's going to sit the game out until he's convinced to go on in and save a little face for the team, which is down 10-0. Ray, of course, hits the home run that gets the team to being down 10-3, and the moment, which features Jessica's obvious attraction to her ex-husband bubbling over yet again, is probably the best of the season. Normally, Ray's little voice-overs about the world are among the most pointless bits of any given episode, but this one was well-written, and it offered a nice counterpoint to the images. It's a sports movie moment, but it's a well-done one.


The final cut to black is also good. Jessica, after much cajoling from her ex and children, finally decides to show off the cheerleading skills she's left fallow since high school (after getting the crowd into the game as it was going on). As she raises her hands into the opening stanza of the cheer, the show abruptly cuts to credits. It's a nice moment, another sense of these people trying to recapture something that has already been lost to them, and it once again suggests how good this show could have been if it had had any real sense of itself beyond its central premise. I'm not going to be upset if Hung is canceled, but episodes like this make me upset that it wasn't better.

Stray observations:

  • Perhaps this is another reason this was a good episode: There was no Lenore.
  • On the other hand, there was exceedingly little Tanya. That was not a good thing. We need more Tanya, show!
  • Just having the baseball game as an event within the episode made it feel significant. Oftentimes, people on Hung don't really seem to be heading anywhere or even heading anywhere in their very motionlessness. This is a show about people who are stuck in place, but it doesn't seem to realize that fact, and that makes so, so much of this incredibly painful to watch.