Last December, HBO surprised nearly everyone when the network summarily canceled 'How to Make it in America,' 'Bored to Death' and the Thomas Jane-starring sex comedy 'Hung.' The move was surprising because, while each show had exhibited some decline in ratings, they were still outperforming 'Enlightened' starring Laura Dern – the half-hour comedy that was given a renewal. Not only did the decision leave fans shaking their heads, but it also left 'Hung' and 'Bored to Death' with some pretty serious cliffhangers that likely won't ever be resolved. (There's word that HBO is considering a 'Bored to Death' movie to wrap up the hanging plotlines, but so far, 'Hung' is, well, hanging.)
For all its sex-filled frankness and obligatory pay-cable nudity, 'Hung' manages to deliver an enjoyable mix of comedy and a heartfelt storyline that revolves largely around this country's current economic woes – more specifically those of the Motor City itself, Detroit. For two seasons, audiences have followed Thomas Jane's hard luck case, Ray Drecker; watching as the epitome of the male American fantasy is flushed right down the toilet: A great looking guy with charm and charisma, enough athletic prowess to be drafted by the Atlanta Braves, a great looking (ex) wife, two kids and a big…well, you know, has lost everything but that one asset. The series asks: In the world of great financial strife, what's a guy to do, but fall back on that which has defined him most in life – or, perhaps, what he's most defined himself by?
Strangely, in between the sex and comedy, 'Hung' has become a tale of forced atavism. In order to survive, Ray and his well meaning, but irrevocably frenzied and socially impaired partner in crime (or, well…pimp), Tanya Skagle (played with manic excellence by Jane Adams) have discovered the path to achieving – and in their case, reclaiming – some semblance of middle class luxury in a city that has long since become the poster boy for layoffs and economic unrest, is to skirt the rules and earn a living by flipping the notion of how the world's oldest profession works. Luckily for Ray and Tanya, Detroit seems to be riddled with women willing to part with a few hundred dollars in the pursuit of a little carnal pleasure.
Season 3 kicks off shortly after the events of season 2, and for the most part, Ray and Tanya have given up leading a double life. Sure, they're still lying about exactly what it is they do, but after more or less quitting their day jobs, pimpin' and hoin' pretty much comprises their professional lives. Thanks to Tanya, the enterprise is under the auspices of a female wellness center: A place where women can go to learn and accept their feminine sexuality and, after a private consultation with Richard (Ray's not so subtle alias), put all that learning to the test. Despite getting off to a shaky start, business soon picks up to the point that Ray finds himself flush with enough cash to complete the repairs on his burnt out husk of a house, and purchase a new car for his kids (which he then keeps). Tanya, meanwhile, has her recently incarcerated pimp mentor, Charlie (Lennie James), crashing at her place after putting up her business as collateral to pay his bail. All in all, things are good, but as the saying goes, "It's tough out there for a pimp," and if stability seemed iffy for Ray and Tanya before entering the prostitution racket, well, it just became exponentially more precarious.
As is normally the case, success encourages imitation and spurs competition – especially when a former partner is concerned. If, when it comes to Happiness Consultants, Tanya is the right brain then Lenore Bernard (Rebecca Creskoff) is the left – or however that theory goes. Soon, and without warning, there is a whole new product out on the market, tagged with that consumer favorite identifier of "New." Enter Jason (Stephen Amell, and soon to be 'Arrow' on The CW), a typically vapid, but incredibly good-looking and endowed young man who may lack Ray's sophistication and sensitivity, but makes up for it with enthusiasm and an unfussy demeanor that could potentially open up a far more vast clientele for Lenore's new business venture that seems to be built entirely on spite. That's just the way illegal businesses relying on the lustful nature of Detroit women go: it's always someone you know trying to do you in.
Much of 'Hung' has to be taken with a grain of salt. But the series creators, Colette Burson and Dmitry Lipkin, deftly maneuver around the notion of implausibility by offering some genuinely funny comedic moments and by imbuing their creations with an appropriate response to the circumstances in which they find themselves. 'Hung' works so well in part because the way every action causes a legitimate reaction (legitimate for the series, mind you), and is conveyed with utter believability by its cast. From the frazzled performance of Adams to the wonderfully sociopathic determination of Creskoff and Jane's occasionally misguided but ultimately heartwarming confidence in a better future for himself and his famly, the series wouldn't work if the cast weren't so convincing. (As an aside, it was also pleasant for someone like Amell to have a knack for comedic timing that belied the supposed obtuse nature of his character.) It's rare for a series that sets itself within such real-world parameters to understand that in order for the more compelling aspects of the series to resonate, they must be amplified beyond said constraints, but still make sense to the characters involved. Had the series not been shown the door by HBO, it's clear that season 3 would have opened up a whole host of possibilities for season 4 and beyond.
As it stands, though, the third (and now final) season offers something of a mixed bag when it comes to the story's conclusion. On one hand, the show's writers managed to grant Ray and Tanya a story arc that not only made for an intriguing season, but also felt conclusive when looked at in terms of a finale. Sure, there were plenty of stories opening up on the road ahead, but somehow, as an ending, it worked by leaving the pair (and by association, the audience) with a sense of fulfillment. Initially there may have been a question if this was the intention of Burson and Lipkin (the announcement by HBO seemed to take everyone by surprise), but it can now be looked at as a happy coincidence, which worked out well for the main characters. On the other hand – removing any speculation that the creators were aware a pink slip had been readied beforehand – the cliffhanger surrounding Lenore and Jason's ambitious and open-minded fiancé, Sandee (Analeigh Tipton), ended with a literal bang and a collective moan of dissatisfaction by those in the audience seeking closure.
In the end, the characters got what they wanted (and maybe deserved), so there is some semblance of justice there. As with all shows canceled before their time, 'Hung' will always have an asterisk next to its title that reads: not the ending the creators imagined, but it will have to be an ending that's good enough for its fans.
'Hung' comes with a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 codec, which offers the half-hour comedy a good, but not great picture that likely doesn't offer much more of an HD image than the broadcast version. The image is clean, no noise is present anywhere on the picture and colors are mostly robust and vivid, but there is a lack of fine detail present that keeps the end product from having an impressive, true high definition feel.
The lack of fine detail, though, is really the only complaint one could make on this transfer. As mentioned above, colors are vivid and manage to pop without looking oversaturated. This is especially noteworthy since many filmmakers tend to portray Detroit as a drab, steely environment of cold facades and exteriors draped in dark grays and blues. The occasional vibrancy of the settings never overwhelm; instead, it serves to affix a rich variety of hues that enhance the overall picture and add depth where needed.
Additionally, black levels are consistent and deep without absorbing the picture or lessening any detail. Without banding issues or any sign of crush, the picture holds up remarkably well despite lacking that look of precision and ultimate clarity.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does a tremendous job with little in the way of sound effects outside of the occasional environmental or crowd noise. As one would expect with a half-hour comedy, 'Hung' is primarily dialogue based, but the audio here brings forth every syllable with crystal clear quality that makes each character easy to hear and understand, even at low volume.
Suggesting the soundtrack is good enough to go even further if need be, the tune played over the opening credits, 'I'll Be Your Man' by the Black Keys, comes through in gorgeous clarity with rich bass and excellent extension across all channels. The same can be said for songs played during and at the end of the episodes.
While not pressed to perform much beyond capturing dialogue clearly, the audio track here does exactly what it needs to, while performing beyond the call of duty with excellent sounding musical selections before and after each episode.
Part of the three casualties in HBO's comedy line-up, 'Hung' is the kind of show that one wishes would earn the obligatory Netflix response of: "Well, if you're just going to throw it away, we'll take it," but this far removed from the announcement of cancellation, let's all hope no one is holding their breath. Riddled with talented actors and presented with just the right amount of restraint, 'Hung' is a bold, incredibly funny comedy that never feels exploitative or salacious for the mere sake of juvenile titillation. Thankfully, even though HBO wasn't interested in another helping of 'Hung,' the network managed to deliver a mostly well rounded Blu-ray release that has plenty of information from the creators, but in no way feels like the definitive release of a series finale. For the last glimpse we'll get of Ray and Tanya's Happiness Consultants, though, this release is worth picking up.