In Hung’s debut season, Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane) reluctantly turned to prostitution because, after a divorce from his high school sweetheart (Anne Heche), his job didn’t pay enough to cover his bills and to support his two teenage children. As the second season begins, Ray remains a teacher, a coach, and a hooker with a female clientele consisting mostly of lonely and dissatisfied wives. These clients come to Ray via his two pimps: Tanya (Jane Adams)—an intellectual, artistic, constantly frustrated and always bedraggled bohemian, and her nemesis Lenore (Rebecca Creskoff)—a glamorous diva masquerading as a “life coach”.
While Tanya and Lenore argue over profits, scheme to entice clients, and desperately fight to one-up each other, Ray is occupied with the problems of his children and his ex-wife, Jessica, who grabs every chance to lure Ray into the luxurious house she shares with her second husband, Ronnie (Eddie Jemison). It seems that if Jessica could combine Ronnie’s paycheck with Ray’s good looks, she’d have the mate of her dreams. She might be happy. But she wasn’t happy with Ray and she isn’t happy with Ronnie, and she’s caught between wanting Ray back and dreading another divorce. “You live through men,” Jessica’s daughter observes. “You seem like a totally lost person.”
Equally lost is Tanya, who, at 42, resembles an alienated and misunderstood adolescent. She stumbles around in dowdy jumpers and sensible shoes, lugging a purse that looks as if it was discarded by a hippie circa 1969. But Tanya isn’t stuck on the superficial, and she has a lot to give. She’s intelligent and open-minded, and she possesses great potential that, sadly, has never been fulfilled. She works at a dreary temp job while struggling to pay her rent and suffering through the delusion that success as Ray’s pimp will validate her abilities—especially to her prestigious, academic mother (Rhea Perlman). Tanya is the most fully-developed character in the cast, and the amazingly talented Jane Adams infuses her with such pathos that she remains sympathetic even when her moral ambiguity and lust for recognition drive her to poor choices. “Good people get ignored and stepped on,” she tells Ray.
Tanya is an endlessly intriguing personality who outshines all others in Hung, including Ray. Although Thomas Jane ably inhabits his character, Ray is not written as sufficiently interesting or nuanced to be the story’s central focus—which he rarely is.
If that isn’t strange enough, what could be the most fascinating aspect of the series—Ray’s moonlighting as a hooker—is sidelined. The idea of an all-American, middle-class man transforming into a gigolo holds infinite possibilities for ethical and psychological conflict, yet Ray passes through each encounter seemingly without much feeling or thought. He does advise a recently-separated client to repair her marriage, but one moment of clarity isn’t enough, and it has more to do with the woman than with Ray. His shell is barely cracked.
And he isn’t entirely believable as a prostitute. He’s a ruggedly handsome guy—and the title of the series gives more than a clue as to why ladies find him appealing—but his supposed allure is too simplistic. Realistically, he would need more to satisfy, especially when dealing with an educated, upper-class, demanding clientele. With his monotone radio-announcer voice and wooden mannerisms, Ray is missing what Richard Gere had in American Gigolo—the smooth suaveness required for smart, wealthy women to fork over wads of cash for his services. This flaw leads to liaisons that are simply not sexy, and scenes which should be sensual are disappointingly odd and awkward.
Ray’s experience as a prostitute is Hung’s hook, but it doesn’t deliver. Instead, it wanders from storyline to storyline, and although each tale is promising, none is given ample depth. Why, for example, does Jessica live through men? Did she ever have other aspirations? Did she attempt a career? These gaps in her background are not filled, and although a positive change in her outlook at the end of the season is beneficial, she—like Ray—is never completely realized.
Even the most developed character, Tanya, is denied enough screen time. Her damaged relationship with her mother is compelling yet almost entirely unexplained, and further analysis of their history could greatly enhance the narrative. A shift in focus to Tanya’s story and to Hung’s main premise would improve the series during its upcoming season.
The DVD contains deleted scenes and an “Inside the Series” feature in which Hung’s producers discuss their thoughts about the plot, characters, and cinematography in the second season.