Monday, September 13, 2010
The Only People In Michigan: A Review of Hung
Full disclosure -- Hung is my favorite show on television. While I enjoy the brooding, enigmatic Don Draper of Mad Men and the wacky exploits of Entourage (let's hear it for the Detroit-style brawling of Eminem last night!), I love Ray Drecker in HBO's second season of Hung. Ray, a high school history teacher who has experienced a series of unfortunate events, is a contemporary everyman who seeks to return to his own version of the Garden of Eden. His Eden consists of a marriage he misses and a life with possibility instead of endless complication. Hung, one of the few shows that addresses the issue of money without the predictable scrims of social politeness or the rescue of various deux ex machinas lies at the heart of this series, the urgent unending need for money. While love, friendship, and nostalgia comprise the heart of this show, the Faustian bargains we make to get money provide the snake in the grass. The premise of the show deals with this subject directly -- Ray sets to supplement his income as a male prostitute that services women. (Ain't no money in that, says Charlie, an old-school pimp that befriends Ray's poet/pimp Tanya.) But money he makes and disaster ensues. Finite resources, both in terms of customers and dollars, concern all involved.
We're not good people, cries Tanya in the middle of the abandoned Tiger's Stadium, a symbol of Detroit's happier times, sadly replaced by Coamerica Park and its attendant corporate horrors. But Ray's son Damon dismisses this notion when he asks her to be his poetry mentor. "So you hit one lady with a belt. You've done a lot of good," a Detroit sentiment if there ever was one. This call and response underlies all the interactions in the show. The raunchy humor and graphic sex combined with a deeply pragmatic worldview give the show the needed gravitas to temper the main conceit. Will people pay for sex? Most certainly. But what about the subtle undercurrents in the wake of such relationships? This question plagues the characters, either directly or indirectly. Ray's ex-wife Jessica has married an irritating dermatologist, Ronnie, for an upgrade in her ease of life, the women Ray sees don't entirely trust him because of what they become my merit of hiring him. Even couples presented as conventional such as Ronnie's crush Mindy are revealed to be shams -- He invited himself, Mindy says while attempting to give Ronnie a hand job while her husband is in a gas station buying a Twix bar. My marriage, she concludes, is dead.
But as the poet laureate of New Jersey (Bruce Springsteen) once wrote, Everything that dies comes back. Can Detroit, the main character of this series, regain a modicum of its glory days? Can Ray regain his splintered family? At the end of the finale, Ray wistfully recalls his parents buying the house he now owns (the shell of it at least, it having burned in the pilot) on the lake, a spot so beautiful that it could serve as a Pure Michigan ad. I felt like the luckiest boy in Detroit, he says, a grown-up Wonder Years situated in urban blight hell. Can he get his luck back? He hopes, but his tone is laced with the knowledge that things do fall apart and people, imperfect as they are, will provide the glue to make all that is broken work again. Like the Velveteen Bunny, he's a bit worse for the wear, but love and forgiveness have to be enough in the wake of the various humiliations and despair he has suffered. Like the city, he may have seen better days, but he's not out, not by a long shot.
Benedictions and Maledictions