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

Hung: "Tucson Is the Gateway to Dick"

Illustration for article titled Hung: "Tucson Is the Gateway to Dick"

I've watched "Tucson Is the Gateway to Dick" three times now. I'm still not sure what to think of it. I like some of the scenes in isolation. I continue to quite enjoy all of the performances (even Anne Heche's work, which was one of the weak spots of season one). I like some of what the show is trying to do. I even laughed a few times (a Bennigan's reference can always get me). But I still feel like it's doing everything it's doing in very weak and over-obvious ways. Plus, the show seems to have realized that it has trouble modulating its tone and has introduced some really obtrusive music that constantly underlines whether the scene you're watching is poignant or funny or whatever.

The center of Hung should probably be Ray, Tanya, and Lenore's meetings with their clients. These are the scenes that usually work (though they don't always), and seeing Tanya go talk to the woman about her potentially enlisting Ray's services, only to almost botch everything when the woman says her husband is dead and she's left the Christmas tree up because, well, he died on Christmas Eve, was a nice little scene. Similarly, the stuff between Ray and Claire was far more uneven, but it had a core of something that could be kind of fascinating, with Ray trying to patch up her marriage while simultaneously taking her money to have sex with her. These scenes are interesting because they're not really like anything else on TV. They're about people trying to negotiate a price for something that feels like it shouldn't be sold (particularly to a pregnant woman), and at their best, they function as a kind of anthology show within the show itself. We visit the lonely women of Detroit with the main characters. We learn a little about their stories. And so on.

It's not a coincidence that the show's one genuinely good episode - "The Pickle Jar" - is almost entirely focused on Ray dealing with a problem with a client. He can't get it up for Margo Martindale, and he spends much of the episode trying to figure out a way to make the whole thing work. It gives the show something of a procedural basis, if you will, and the standalone nature of these scenes at least gives every episode a storyline to cling to. Refocus this episode a little more on Claire and on Lenore and Tanya's pursuit of the rich widow, and you just might have something. Instead, the whole thing becomes a muddled attempt to incorporate everything that exists within the Hung universe, such as it is.

I like the client scenes because they can be about different things from episode to episode, but they also get into the show's central idea, which is that Ray, as a prostitute, can sell these women a certain kind of fantasy they can't get from their husbands or boyfriends. (Though now that I think about it, the fact that so many of Ray's clients are clearly insane is sort of offensive.) The rest of the show is about a father who's fallen on hard times and is trying to hold his family together and trying to get his ex-wife back. There's also broad suburban satire and a really basic metaphor about a man trying to rebuild his house. For the most part, all of this stuff - which is what interests the producers the most about Hung, I think - is being done by other shows and being done better. Ray's relationship with Jessica could, potentially, be interesting with these actors, but it's just not because it's bogged down by so many other elements that are easily available on something like a dozen other shows. Heche does what she can, but the basic arc for every Jessica storyline is the same. She realizes she's shallow. She cries about it. She spends some money to forget about it again.

I agree with some commenters on the last episode that there's an interesting core at work in this season: Ray is trying to set right what went wrong in his life, causing him to lose his wife, his kids, and his job. To do that, he's trying to set right the lives of his clients, but also to get back in the good graces of Jessica, all the while ignoring that he's breaking up another marriage to do so. It's a potentially interesting idea, full of moral complexity and at least the possible chance of some crazy sex farce or something. There's also a nice attempt to focus this episode on absent husbands and their wives, what with the widow, Claire and her husband who wants back, and Jessica and Ray doing their little dance of bowling seduction (or whatever that is). There are elements of a show that work and work well in the midst of this.

I don't think the show needs to be a laugh riot, but, Lord, it needs to try harder than putting plucky strings underneath scenes that are supposed to be funny. I have no problem with playing some of the darker material (like Claire's breakdown) for laughs, but I don't terribly like it when the show seems to suddenly realize it's a comedy and then underscores that with the music. Similarly, there should be a way to make these scenes funny that doesn't involve everybody shrieking at each other. It's like the actors have realized the scripts aren't all that amusing or interesting and are just pressing forward and doing the best they can. Again, I don't demand that this show be wall-to-wall chuckles, but it would be nice if there were something in it that wasn't just an unending string of bleakness with violins frantically trying to make us smile.


But there are nuggets of good amidst the lackadaisical plotting. (And, honestly, how much has HAPPENED on this show since it started? There's deliberately slow plotting and then there's sitting in one place because you're not sure where to go.) I liked the scene where Jessica went to her daughter's club meeting, and they confronted her about how she's skinny (a scene that almost bordered on amusing satire). I liked the scene between Tanya and the widow. I continue to like pretty much every time the show puts Lenore and Tanya in the same room and realizes that Lenore will say or do almost anything. And I liked some of the lines that Ray's neighbor spouted. But the majority of it was rather listless, making me wonder what, exactly, the show is going for. If the plot for the season is all about getting Ray and Jessica back together, fine. But I don't think you can take them halfway there in one episode and then spend the other nine stalling.

Stray observations:

  • Half a point added for the use of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes' "40 Day Dream," which is just a great song.
  • I get that the mattress thing was just intended to be a runner or a bookend device, but it, too, felt blandly executed, as if the show wanted to have it in there but wasn't really willing to commit.
  • Again, I'm assured this gets better by episode four. So I'll hold out hope until then, I guess.
  • "I'm giving you a fantastic bed so you don't sleep like a homeless on a cot."
  • "I'm extremely fucking classy."
  • "No, I did! At Bennigan's!"