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December 5, 2016

‘Hung’ Up on HBO’s Raunchy New Drama

It’s the world’s oldest profession, and cable TV’s newest topic du jour. Although prostitution is illegal in most places and frowned upon in others, it has become the subject of choice for many television shows and movies. Showtime has “Secret Diary of a Call Girl,” about a woman who records her adventures as a call girl. But not since Deuce Bigolo have we seen a mainstream effort to explore the life and travails of a male prostitute. HBO has changed that, jumping on the bandwagon for their summer line-up (alongside “Entourage” and “True Blood”) with “Hung,” a show about what its like to be a male hooker. The title pretty much says it all.

The main character, Ray Drecker, is portrayed by Thomas Jane, whose past credits include “The Punisher” and Stephen King’s “The Mist.” As a divorced high school basketball coach with two kids, the show opens with Ray suffering from a series of unfortunate events – including a fire in his house, his two kids moving in with their mother (a desperate Anne Heche) and the inability to make ends meet. Ray is a relatable character – Jane does an excellent job of showing Ray’s soft side as well as his devotion to – and desire to provide for – his kids, which helps motivate him to become a prostitute. Because in the end, prostitution is always for the kids.

The show itself drags on a little bit. Because it’s HBO, that means it has a green light for swearing, violence and nudity. Considering the show is called “Hung,” most viewers probably expect it to be more smutty and less plot-driven, but that isn’t the case at all. The nudity and sexuality are only subplots within the lives of Ray Drecker, his family and the other supporting characters.

After meeting a woman named Tanya at a self-help success seminar, Ray confides in her that he wants to start working on the side as a prostitute, and she agrees to be his “pimp.” The character of Tanya (played by Jane Adams)  seems written-in for comic relief – because although Ray Drecker is a relatable character, he just isn’t really that entertaining. Tanya and Drecker’s ex-wife, Jessica Haxon (Heche) pick up the slack from the character of Ray. But Ray isn’t supposed to be funny, so it’s not that big of a flaw. He is just a single dad trying to fix all the mistakes in his life; prostitution seems to be the light at the end of the tunnel.

Tanya, on the other hand, is unbelievably scatter-brained, working as a temp at a law office and trying to find a way out of her situation. This is what makes her likeable as a character. As an audience, it’s hard not to sympathize with Tanya’s endearing persona or with the situations she’s put in. Even under the most stress (for example, losing the partnership with Drecker), she stays in complete control of her emotions and still manages to keep a lightness to the character.

The first four episodes are mostly uneventful. They chronicle the life of Drecker and his encounter with many unfortunate events during one period of time; they also cover the back story with his wife and kids. Despite its slow pace in the first couple episodes, the writing is unbelievably clever and the situations seem genuine of those that might be experienced by an unlucky, middle-aged guy. The characters are really what drive the show. Once Drecker finally gets on his feet within his chosen side profession, it seems that the show will gain more momentum and possibly pull in a larger audience. Up until now, the previews for the coming episodes have been more monumental than the episodes themselves. But ultimately, “Hung,” which airs on Sunday nights on HBO at 10 p.m. (between “True Blood,” which airs at 9 p.m., and “Entourage” at 10 p.m.), is a nice addition to the summer lineup.

Haley Navarro can be reached at hnavarro@student.umass.edu.

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