I hate the title of the new HBO series Hung. The title is crass and, as such, is misleading. However, if the pilot, which aired last Sunday, is any indication, Hung will be much more than a show about a man who is well-endowed. Considering it's executive produced by Dmitry Lipkin (the creator of FX's woefully underappreciated and now canceled The Riches) and Alexander Payne (director of the Oscar-winning Sideways), this should come as no surprise. But honestly, can they outdo the pilot? The episode (which I've watched three times now) came together so effortlessly, lacked the base humor the title implies, and was so charming with its double entendres and visual puns (especially in the opening credits), I'm almost afraid they've spent all they have on the first, delightfully wry episode (which was written by Lipkin and directed by Payne).
The series stars Thomas Jane (The Punisher, 61*) as Ray Drecker, a former golden boy who has fallen on very hard times. A former high school jock, he had his chance at the big leagues permanently derailed by an injury. When we meet him, he's head coach of a losing basketball team and his house is falling apart. His wife (played by Anne Heche) has left him for a more financially successful man. Ray is satisfied when his teenage twins want to live with him after his wife leaves, but even that goes awry when the childhood home he and the kids move in to goes up in flames. Dead broke and living in a tent in his backyard, he is reduced to asking his ex-wife for money; in perhaps the most heart-wrenching scene in the first episode, Ray cannot afford to give his kid money for a concert he wants to go to. Something has to change. Ray knows he's not very smart; he knows his golden days are over; he knows that his life is crumbling all around him (mimicking images of a desolate Detroit, where the series is set). But he also knows that if something is going to change, he's going to have to do it. That's when he decides to take a self-help class on how to become a millionaire and is inspired to use his, um, assets. This starts his quest to become a male escort – and what a quest one hopes it will be.
What I predict will be the true brilliance of Hung will not be based on the titillation factor but on Ray's journey to learn what the customer wants. In the past, everything came so easy to him. Now he realizes that life takes some effort. But Ray isn't afraid of a little hard work. In the beginning, he thinks if he places an ad in the paper (promising to "give you every inch of his love"), buys himself a box of condoms, and swallows his pride, the women will come running. Oh, did I mention the added bonus of photographing his man parts for the online ad? That alone got me laughing, but I guffawed when Ray showed up at his first "date" and knocked on the door purring, "Hello, sugar," to the presumed woman on the other side of the hotel door. The only thing missing was the pungent aroma of cheap cologne you know he must have doused himself in. Poor Ray is shocked (shocked!) and dismayed when the customer not only refuses his services but doesn't even open the door. This is such an amazing scene, both for its humor (the unseen customer rebuffs him with a note slipped under the door) and for the very real lesson Ray has to learn. Showing up is not enough no matter how well-endowed he is, he discovers. As the series progresses, I suspect he's going to have to learn to use untapped, less obvious resources.
Jane Adams (Frasier) is superb as Tanya, a one-night stand who reunites with Ray in his self-help class and becomes his manager. Their relationship is fraught with land mines. Each of them is stubborn and blind in his or her own way, but they each have something to learn from the other – and we get 10 episodes to find out what.
Hung airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO.
As always, stay tuned.
E-mail Belinda Acosta at email@example.com. Follow "TV Eye" on Twitter @ChronicleTVEye.