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Posted: September 02, 2009

New tube: Really, really, really big business

HBO's "Hung" turns the world's oldest profession on its head

Lisa Ryckman


Think Biff Loman meets John Holmes, and you’ve got the basic concept behind HBO’s new series, Hung.

Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane) has what men think women want - but not much else. He's a one-time high school baseball star who washed out with the Atlanta Braves and came back to Detroit, only to end up a divorced, down-on-his-luck high school history teacher and basketball coach ("Didn't you used to be Ray Drecker?" a former high school rival asks him.)

Equal parts hunky and hapless, Ray ends up living in a tent after a fire destroys the modest lakeside home his parents left him. And it gets worse - turns out Ray let the insurance lapse, which means he has to rebuild one beam at a time.

He needs a second job, and he needs it bad.

Enter the world’s most unlikely pimp: Tanya Skagle, a part-time poetess played with awkward charm by frizzle-haired Jane Adams. She hooks up with Ray in a get-rich-quick seminar and realizes that his biggest asset might make them both some money; so begins their joint venture, Happiness Consultants.

They learn the hard way that the life of a middle-aged male prostitute isn’t all beds and roses. There’s sex - but even that’s no sure thing. Like any new business, there's the problem of attracting clients, and Tanya's marketing strategy needs work (sidling up to coworkers at the law firm where she has a clerical job proves problematic). For some reason, despite rugged good looks and exceptional endowment - we’ll have to take his clients’ words and wide-eyes for that - Ray has a tough time getting repeat customers.

And while this is all very charming, you can't help but wonder when they're going to get arrested.

Bouncing in and out of the story are Ray’s impossibly neurotic ex-wife, Jessica (Anne Heche), the blond cheerleader he married out of high school; their lumpy, bored teen-age twins, Damon and Darby; Jessica’s rich dermatologist husband, who may or may not have lost big in the stock market; and Tanya’s passive-aggressive academic of a mother (Rhea Perlman)

As hard as it might be to imagine given the subject, Hung comes across as dark, funny and endearing, thanks in large part to the chemistry between the Janes. Ray, it turns out, may be more mensch than lunkhead, and his new job brings plenty of new insight into himself and the women in his life. Tanya, meanwhile, struggles with her desire to make Happiness Consultants work - despite a complete lack of business smarts - and her desire to have a relationship with Ray that goes beyond the world’s oldest profession.

They’re unlikely business partners thrust together in an even unlikelier business – but somehow, they make it work.

See Hung at 8 p.m. MT on HBO.

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Lisa Ryckman is the Associate Editor/Online at ColoradoBiz. Contact her at lryckman@cobizmag.com.

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