Ray Srecker’s life sucks: He’s divorced, his two teenage kids have decided to live with their mom (who’s remarried to a smarmy dermatologist), his job as a high-school history teacher and basketball coach pays terribly, the team he coaches is on a long losing streak, and, oh yeah, he’s sleeping in a tent in his backyard because a fire has destroyed most of his house. A real person might see this as a sign to sell the house, take on a second mortgage, find a new job or move in with family. Since Ray (played by Thomas Jane) is a TV character, though, he’s inspired by a self-help seminar that encourages participants to find their own special “tool” to put his particular tool to use as a male prostitute.
Hung (HBO, Sundays, 10 p.m.) is cable’s latest entry in the suburban-rot genre, joining the likes of Weeds, Breaking Bad, Big Love and The Riches (created by Hung co-creator Dmitry Lipkin) in peeling back the layers of seemingly placid suburban life to reveal the drug-dealing/polygamy/con-artistry going on behind them. Hung, which takes place in the Detroit suburbs, is not yet as dark as some of those shows have become, but it certainly revels in exposing a seedy underbelly beneath the well-manicured lawns and bland high-school functions.
Lipkin and co-creator Colette Burson take great pleasure in teasing the audience about Ray’s large endowment, with dialogue double entendres and plenty of near-glimpse moments. But attention-getting title aside, Hung is less about the comedic potential of a large penis and more about the same thing those other suburban-rot shows are about: the lengths to which ordinary people will go to provide for their families and feel like their lives have meaning. In that sense, the little wink-wink jokes are superfluous and annoying, detracting from the decent character work that Lipkin and Burson build up over time.
Hung’s supporting cast isn’t as, er, rich as The Riches’, but at least the secondary characters are more than just collections of quirks. As Ray’s friend/pimp/former one-night stand, Jane Adams brings a twitchy energy to the show, and Anne Heche is perfect as Ray’s high-strung ex-wife. The show’s mix of awkward comedy and heartfelt drama isn’t quite balanced yet, and it isn’t exactly uncovering new truths about the evils of suburbia. But it’s certainly more than just a show about a guy with a big dick, and for that, it’s worth keeping an eye on.