Take a title like Hung on a network like HBO, and you pretty much know what you’re getting into with this new comedy. It stars the Punisher, Thomas Jane, as Ray Drecker, a schlub on the skids. Ray is a failed pro athlete, and now a bored high school coach. His 20-year marriage has ended, and his ex-wife, played by Anne Heche in her fearlessly unlikable mode (translation: If you loved Men in Trees, you won’t enjoy her here), has married a rich guy who makes Ray feel inadequate. He pines for more time with his two teenage kids (Sianoa Smit-McPhee and Charlie Saxton), but their mom has custody most of the time.
See? I went a whole paragraph without saying that Ray has a gigantic penis. That’s Hung’s hook: Ray is built like the proverbial stallion, but he has to work like a mule to make ends meet. In this series, co-created by Dmitry Lipkin (The Riches) and Colette Burson, it doesn’t take long for Ray to reach a stress point — most of his house burns down and he has to sleep in a tent because he can’t afford anything better — to use his endowment to make money.
Ray has a one-night stand with a pleasantly neurotic poet named Tanya, played by the excellent Jane Adams (Frasier’s Mel Karnofsky). They have no romantic spark, but she’s looking to get out of a dead-end job, so Tanya, impressed by Ray’s member, proposes that she become Ray’s ”pimp.” Her business plan: They’ll make their service distinctive, more classy-woman-friendly, by calling themselves ”happiness consultants” — so much less crude than ”escort service.” Or ”man-whore.” (Hey, Tanya says that, not me.)
Unfortunately, Hung makes all the double entendres you’d expect. Ray says you have to make do with ”whatever gifts God gave ya.” A motivational speaker tells Ray, in advising him to come up with a marketable idea, to ”identify your own tool” for success. Tanya and Ray’s business is a ”joint project.”
This show’s biggest problem is that aside from limp jokes, it seems to cancel out its two audiences: Women may be turned off by the notion that all gals want a thick sausage, and men may yawn because it’s not explicit enough by HBO standards. (Compared with Hung, Entourage is an X-rated bacchanal.) Thomas Jane, though, is a revelation — he plays hopeless haplessness without coming off wimpy, and his initial uncomfortableness as a pro gigolo is charming. But Hung’s awkward tone (partly intentional, since the pilot was directed by Alexander Payne, writer- director of that gem of awkward comedy Sideways) becomes frustrating. The series needs to commit: Either evolve into a funny, sexy stud-romp or hang it up. C+