POOR RAY Is the debt-ridden jock who's left with nothing but his big schlong some kind of metraphor for America?
The premise for HBO's new half-hour comedy Hung (Sundays at 10 pm) is so over-the-top as to be cringe-worthy: high school basketball coach Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane), divorced and broke, starts whoring himself to ladies on the basis of his giant schlong. I know: ugh. But, like Entourage (which started its sixth season on July 12 and follows at 10:30), Hung finds a lot of ways to spell whore, not all of them having to do with sex.
On one level, Hung is another way of looking at the current economic black hole. Set in Detroit, it opens with shots of the demolition of Tiger Stadium, with Ray intoning a deadpan voiceover about the city's position "at the headwaters in the river of failure." Nothing can go right for Ray — the overgrown high school sports hero who's got nothing left but his big dick. Is he a metaphor for a big, bad economically tanking America? You decide.
Ray has moved into the cozy old lake-side house his parents left him — which promptly burns down in an electrical fire. Now he's living in a tent in the back yard. Like its premise, everything in Hung is slightly off, which gives it an odd, parallel-universe charm. Ray's kids are chubby boy-girl teenage twins who would rather live with him than crazed, persnickety mom (Anne Heche), married to a dermatologist who shoots her face up with Botox before breakfast.
The disjunction between tone and content, as well as some shrewd acting, gives Hung its comic sizzle. Ray's new career is proposed by an old fling he reunites with, Tanya (Jane Adams), a crunchy-granola night-school poet. When Ray and Tanya talk about their new business venture, they might as well be talking about opening a Shoney's franchise or a retail Web site. (They meet at a self-help career class where Tanya's trying to figure out how to market her "lyric bread" pastry, complete with baked-in poetry.) Adams avoids standard sit-com beats in her line readings — she delivers her dialogue as though it's just occurring to her. Thus far, Rebecca Kreskoff, as a pathologically lying professional shopper who takes Ray out for a test run, is another standout. And Thomas Jane is a perfect embodiment of the lunk-headed hooker with a heart of gold. In a future episode, he at first chills in the face of a plump, middle-aged client, but eventually does the right thing.
Which raises another question. Ray is always as up-and-ready as a 17-year-old. How long can he fake it with his mixed clientele before having to resort to the little blue pill?
For Entourage, ED is rarely a problem. In fact, that might be the problem. Erstwhile star Vince Chase (Adrian Grenier) is now on top of the heap, starring in a Martin Scorsese telling of The Great Gatsby. How many times can we agonize over his career swings? And what about his buddies from Queens? Even Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), the least eligible of the Entourage bachelors, is dating the The Sopranos' Jamie-Lynn Sigler (playing herself), so his complaints about Seth Rogen being "too ugly" to score Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up are amusing but also unconvincing. It's too early in the season to say Entourage has outworn its welcome, and at this point, Vince and his pals are still as funny as they are familiar.
Besides, Entourage still has Jeremy Piven as Vince's motormouth, trantrum-prone agent, Ari Gold. Say what you will about Piven's Ari, he's still the soul of the show. When he confronts a smarmy colleague (Gary Cole) about a potentially disastrous affair he's conducting with a junior agent, it's difficult to separate self-preservation from compassionate wisdom: "At the end of the day, she's just a twentysomething agent on the make and you're just another old fuck who's going to have to take a pill to keep up with her." In power games, self-delusion is the most dangerous drug of all.