'Hung' might be the only major, big-budget prime-time television series whose premise can be traced to a schoolyard dirty limerick (you know, the one about the man from the quaint Northeastern hamlet of Nantucket). I mean that's how you boil down the show: it's about a dude with a big dick. That's pretty much it, no matter how many times creative principles associated with the show try to assert the show's "complexity" and "richness" on the special features side of things.
The basic conceit, set-up in the masterful pilot directed by Alexander 'Sideways' Payne, is that Ray (Thomas Jane) is a man who has lost everything. He's divorced from his wife Jessica (played with pitch-perfect brittleness by Anne Heche), a fire destroys his house, and he is very probably losing his job as a history teacher and basketball coach. He doesn't understand his teenage twins (Charlie Saxton and Sianoa Smit-McPhee (the older sister of the little kid from 'The Road')) and his potential as a star athlete in high school and as a genuinely engaging human being, seems to be slipping further and further away.
But he does have one big thing going for him.
And so, after a failed entrepreneurial workshop, he teams up with the equally bedraggled Tanya (Jane Adams), who agrees to become his unlikely pimp, and the two begin a career in (her words) "happiness consulting." The shift in glamour and gender paradigms is intriguing: He's a middle aged man, she's a jittery middle-aged woman, and the setting: suburban Detroit, is about as far humanly possible from anything even remotely glamorous. Neither of them knows anything about the business, or about business at all. It's the blind leading the blind… to the bed.
This is basically the entirety of the television series: Ray bumbles his way from one awkward sexual situation to the next, Tanya is nervous and flighty and occasionally threatened by Lenore (Rebecca Creskoff) as a possibly psychotic vixen moving in on Tanya's territory. As far as dramatic, or even comedic tension goes, there's really nothing to grasp, let alone untangle. One of the biggest "threats" (if you can call it that) is whether or not Ray's ex-wife Jessica will accidentally call upon Ray. This may be called 'Hung,' but all I could think was 'limp.'
I watched the series' initial ten-episode run on HBO when it originally aired, watching not because I felt compelled, but because I had some weird sense of loyalty. Or maybe I wasn't doing something on Sunday nights. But whatever the reason, I felt maybe I didn't give it a fair shake. But on second viewing, my feelings were more or less the same, or possibly even compacted: this show is boring, plain and simple.
Still, it's not without its merits. The cast is uniformly excellent, and Jane Adams is the standout for sure (although Rebecca Creskoff made the gutsy decision to do a scene bottomless, assuring us that she is, indeed, a natural redhead – that kind of sexy chutzpah should be rewarded). It should also be applauded that the series is so earnestly entrenched in the current economic downturn, particularly in Payne's beautiful pilot. There are very few television shows these days willing to address the seriousness of the situation with the appropriate level of grim truthfulness ('Glee' attempted to do this during the first half of its inaugural season before it decided that Lady Gaga songs were a more pressing matter). The series never gets bogged down in these economic issues, but it's always there. And that should get some major props.
It's just that the show has no narrative motor, no drive. Things happen, minor crises arise, but nothing is ever all that exciting, or funny, or even interesting. It lacks the kinetic absurdity of HBO's breakout comedy series 'Eastbound and Down' (which is begging for a high definition release, please) and the kind of amiable weirdness of the sorely missed 'Flight of the Conchords.' The whole production just seems flaccid.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The 50GB two-disc Blu-ray set automatically plays when you pop in the disc. On the first disc, you're treated to an admittedly cool ad for "HBO on Blu-ray" (or something to that effect), with a guy watching his 'Band of Brothers' Blu-ray in a bombed out apartment. The set is Region A locked and housed in a handsome paper foldout case.
Visually, 'Hung' walks a fine line – at times its incredibly peppy and slick but at other times its earthy and real, especially when highlighting its socio-economic underpinnings. Thankfully, this gorgeous MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer (aspect ratio: 1.78:1) covers both aspects nicely.
For the sunnier spots of 'Hung,' things are rendered brightly and clearly, without anything ever seeming overblown or noisy. Flesh tones look good, detail is nice (particularly on fabric textures – you can practically feel the chunkiness of Roy's clunky sneakers, ditto his various suits), and everything bristles with clarity.
On the same token, the many darker and nighttime scenes are represented just as impressively. Since Ray's house is destroyed he lives in a small tent down by the lake outside his house. Black levels are good, crispness remains intact, and sequences like the one in the movie theater in the season finale really sparkle, bringing attention to the excellent cinematography and lighting of the show.
This is a very solid video presentation, overall, especially for such a marginal effort.
Shockingly, the audio portion of these discs is just as impressive as the video, even more so. I was taken aback by the activity and depth of the track, even while watching some of the episodes with the commentary tracks; a very nice DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track indeed.
There are moments that are full of activity, like the many high school basketball games that really utilize the sound field. There are other moments, like a baseball game in the rain, where things absolutely dazzle with the level of atmospheric depth that is accomplished.
These may be select scenes, but there is a lot to be said about the rest of the series. The show is incredibly reliant on pop music moments/montages (the theme song is an old Black Keys tune, after all) and those sound amazing here as well. As you would expect from a high class HBO series, the show is definitely very dialogue heavy and that is provided for well too, with dialogue that is front and center but crisp, clear, and well prioritized.
There really isn't anything you can say wrong about this track, it's exactly what's needed; well done, never overwhelming, just very sturdy and clear.
Also included on the discs are subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.
All the extras that appear on this disc also appear on the two-disc DVD set.
Overall, I wasn't crazy about 'Hung;' I found it simplistic and sometimes shockingly boring (for a show about sex – with frequent nudity – this is even more shocking!) It's a sturdily made series, with some fine performances, but something about it just didn't click. It's got a lot a promise, but not a lot of tension or laughs. Still, HBO has delivered yet another beautiful high-def package, both audio and video-wise, even though it skimped on the extras. So I'll cautiously recommend you rent it first, before paying the primo HBO dollars to own the set. 'Hung' may work for those looking for some mild laughs, but when it comes to extras, look elsewhere. In this case, size does matter.