Sunday, August 02, 2009

Hung, "Do It, Monkey": Too early for flapjacks?

Spoilers for tonight's "Hung" -- plus my take on the show's heated press tour session -- coming up just as soon as I snort with derision...

I'll go into more details on the press tour session at the end, but one of the more interesting/confrontational moments came when a critic asked the creators whether the show was actually supposed to be considered a comedy, or if it was just a half-hour drama with occasional moments of humor. Everyone on the panel seemed surprised by this suggestion, particularly when the critic used this episode and next week's (which also features Natalie Zea as Jemma) as an example of the show heading into darker territory. The panelists (primarily co-creators Dmitry Lipkin and Colette Burson, plus Jane Adams) acknowledged that the show has its dark moments but that, as Burson put it, "We do think of it as a comedy of awkwardness," and they had a very different read on these episodes than the critic, who compared them to "Fatal Attraction."

While I do think "Hung" could stand to take a more overt step into the realm of comedy (or else take a firmer step back into the dramatic realm), I actually found "Do It, Monkey" to be the funniest episode so far. And if I were to compare it to a movie, it'd be "Groundhog Day," particularly the section where Bill Murray's character is still trying to trick Andie MacDowell into sleeping with him, and making minute changes to his approach with each passing day based on how she responds to him.

The difference here, of course, is that Ray isn't actually reliving the same moments over and over, and both he and Jemma are very much aware of the game they're playing. But seeing them go through this charade over and over, and seeing lunkhead, insensitive Ray struggle to understand what this crazy lady wants from him, led to more laughs than the show has provided in average in previous weeks. Thus far, most of the go-to humor has come from Tanya -- specifically, the idea of scattered, ineffectual poet Tanya trying to act as a pimp -- but there's a lot of comic potential in Ray learning the emotional side of his new career, especially since that's turning out to be more important than his giant tool.

Beyond that, "Do It, Monkey" also offered some nice role reversals for our central characters. Jess's husband Ron loses a lot of his money in the stock market, and Floyd the motivational speaker is revealed (to us, if not entirely to Tanya) as a fraud who rents his expensive car and can't afford to just give away paraphernalia if it's not going to get him either sex or money. And that leads to the poignant, mortifying moment when Floyd -- whom she went out with out of pity -- loudly rejects Tanya as not his type, and Tanya has to call up Ray, who by now is her only real friend, after her drunk and disinterested mom blows her off as well.

There have been times at this press tour where I've felt like the only guy in the room who likes this show -- a situation we'll revisit in a moment -- but an episode like "Do It, Monkey" makes me feel like I'm not completely nuts for going against the group consensus. It feels, like last week's episode did, like evidence that the show is slowly but surely finding its voice.

But because most of the room seems not to enjoy "Hung," and because the show's name and subject matter so easily lend themselves to jokes about sex and the male anatomy, the press tour session got... I don't want to say "hostile," though there were one or two points where Thomas Jane seemed very unhappy with us, but... uncomfortable.

For starters, it seemed like every question, intentionally or not, was laced with a double-entendre. The opening query (about inevitable comparisons to "Weeds" and "Breaking Bad"), for instance, included the phrase "working stiffs," and each time we heard a line like that, there were snickers in the crowd and sarcastic thumbs-up from Thomas Jane.

Several reporters euphemistically asked why we had yet to see Ray's "greatest tool," and when the producers tried to turn that into a discussion of how Ray is learning how to satisfy his clients' emotional needs, one frustrated critic bluntly asked, "Why is it that you choose not to show his penis?"

"Because it’s just so big and beautiful, it will blow your mind," Jane Adams cracked. "That’s why."

Burson then explained, to more snickers, "We think of it as a Platonic Plato’s penis on a certain level, like the perfect idealized penis. So there is a certain problem inherent in showing it because it might be too big for some people, too small for others. So we sort of think it’s perfect for everybody who comes in contact with it."

Later, when another reporter asked if Thomas Jane's anatomy was considered as part of the audition process, the fed-up leading man said, "I did have to go into the next room to disrobe so I wouldn’t hit anybody in the eye."

I certainly didn't help the mood in the room by raising the question, asked by many readers here on the blog, of why the actors cast to play Damon and Darby bare so little resemblance to Thomas Jane and Anne Heche. I tried to couch it in terms of whether there was either a plot point (the show implying that the kids aren't really Ray's) or a thematic one (that, like so much in Ray's life, his kids didn't turn out quite as he expected them to), but the panel seemed to think I was attacking the kids as ugly.

"Don’t pick on my kids," Thomas Jane growled. "Leave my kids alone, for God’s sake."

Later, he observed, "There is no reason this show should be good. The show should be bad. It’s about a guy with a big d--k who f--ks people for money. F--k you." And still later, after someone asked if Jane thought about what female prostitutes go through, he said, "Right, those poor sullied creatures of the night. No. Absolutely not. I just don’t want to know what they go through after I give them my $300."

After a gasp and a long moment of silence, Jane Adams asked, "Are you guys twittering? Did anybody get that? Because I can’t wait to read that s--t later."

I don't know that any of us -- critics and panelists alike -- covered ourselves in glory, either with my question or the session in general. But, again, the subject matter and the general critical reaction to the show made this sort of awkward half-hour all but inevitable.

That said, Burson, Lipkin and company did offer up some interesting answers to things we've been wondering about, beyond the question of why we have yet to see Ray do the full Monty.

For instance, Burson talked about the "Breaking Bad"/"Weeds" comparisons and said she felt those shows were very concerned with the main character maintaining his/her secret identity, and "We’re not so interested in that. Like, we’re not interested in who finds out and him trying to hide it. Like, that feels false to us. We are much more interested in him alone in a room with a woman or his relationship with his ex-wife or his relationship with his pimp. It’s really about those interconnections for us."

And Jane Adams told a funny story about being on a plane with Terrence Howard (Oscar-nominated for playing a pimp in "Hustle & Flow"). "I had worked with him before, and he was sitting right next to me. So I was, like, 'I'm playing a pimp.' And he had a lot to say about playing a pimp and a lot of stuff. And I realized, you know, this has nothing to do with Ray and Tanya right now..."

I spoke briefly with Adams and Burson after the panel, and hopefully I can interview Burson and Lipkin as the season moves further along to talk about the show's learning curve. And in the meantime, what did everybody else think of this episode?


Omagus said...

Geez, just READING about that Q and A session makes me cringe. I can't imagine what it would have been like to actually be there.

I'm not sure why I watched the first episode of Hung but I did. I only thought that it was ok but for whatever reason I've watched every episode and I think the show has definitely gotten better. I'm not sure why so many people are so eager to catch a glimpse of Ray's anatomy; the explanation about it being an "idealized penis" makes perfectly good sense to me.

(I had to go back and edit this comment to remove anything that could be read as a double entendre; hope I caught them all.)

Bix said...

I somehow didn't realize that was Natalie Zea until her name came up in the closing credits. She looked incredibly familiar, but I couldn't place her. She looks much younger and prettier with this hairstyle than she did on DSM.

Mark said...

Please is there anywhere we can watch this panel/cast interview online somewhere?

Karl Ruben said...

Wow, thank you so much for the additional stuff on the Hung panel at TCA. I really hope you get to interview the showrunners at the end of the season - to hear their take on that session would be great. I get the feeling that being part of a show that deals with prostitution and sex might be more problematic/stressful than it is for those that deal with drugs (Weeds, Breaking Bad). It would be interesting to hear the showrunners' take on those different degrees (or kinds of) controversy.

Mark said...

Thomas Jane seems like he is a bit humorless and prickly which is a huge dissapointment.

Jeremiah Peck said...

I second the desire to see/hear this panel.

dez said...

I didn't recognize Natalie Zea, either.

I enjoyed this ep quite a bit, especially seeing Ray's frustration in trying to figure out what Jemma wanted, and then going behind Tanya's back to see Jemma. I cringed when Banyon dumped Tanya, too. What a jerk.

And I totally cracked up when Ray bought the steaks and offered to get the kids a car just because he's a jerk, too. He, unlike Floyd, realizes it, though.

That panel sounds like something else. It sounds like you did your best to be pleasant, but I guess the hostility was already established by then and spilled over onto you. If you do get to interview the showrunners again, maybe you can ask them again about the kids (assuming we haven't found anything out about them)?

Anonymous said...

Anyone else think it's weird that Thomas Jane was answering questions about the show in the first person? "My kids"??? They're Ray's kids, Mr. Jane, and these are questions about a TV show. No one wants to see your actual penis-- we want to see Ray's. He seems a little overinvested in the role if he's taking questions about his character's children and penis this personally.

dez said...

I like the idea that there is a Platonic Form for a penis. I used to posit those sorts of ridiculous ideas in my philosophy class. Good thing my prof was tolerant.

SVZ said...

[W]e’re not interested in who finds out and him trying to hide it...[w]e are much more interested in him alone in a room with a woman or his relationship with his ex-wife or his relationship with his pimp. It’s really about those interconnections for us.

Although I have enjoyed Hung so far (and thought last week's episode was the most sure-footed yet) I thought this week was setback. It felt like the show stalled or ended multiple threads -- no movement on Darby/Damon/Hammer, Doris the Dog is laid to rest, Floyd seems like he's out of the picture and Lenore is nowhere to be found. At the end it seemed like all the stuff with Jemma was just preamble to whatever disturbing direction she takes things next week.

Now maybe next week will turn out interesting, but the truth is Zea's a guest and I could really use more time with Tanya. We know a combination of things has brought her to this point of being willing to be a pimp, but we have only gotten sketchy and stereotypical details about what those things are (boring job, unreliable mother). She's desperate but in a different way from Ray and I'd like to see the show fill out that picture a bit. I also thinks it helps when we see Ray and Tanya hashing out what a particular client needs, because it makes Ray seem like less of a male prostitute savant. I realize Tom Jane is the lead and I like his performance but Ray needs to have a good foil to be interesting.

That's why the quote from Burson jumps out at me. I feel like neither Tanya nor Jessica (especially Jessica) have really gotten much character development yet, while the show has brought up Ray's concern about being recognized/caught a couple of times (including this week, with the principal played by Gina Hecht). It is very encouraging to hear that Burson considers the ex-wife and pimp relationships central, and I hope to see more evidence of that on-screen soon.


As an aside, does anyone else think the show plays a bit with Ray's sophistication level? I thought that Ray the history teacher sounded like he could have faked being a book editor (maybe a book editor of histories?) a little better than "Richard" did.

Anonymous said...

"As an aside, does anyone else think the show plays a bit with Ray's sophistication level? I thought that Ray the history teacher sounded like he could have faked being a book editor (maybe a book editor of histories?) a little better than "Richard" did."

He did go to the University of Central Florida after all (j/k). I completely disagree. I thought this was the best episode so far. Gemma was like a master class in man-whoring for Ray.

Anonymous said...

I saw Rhea Perlman's name in the credits, but I don't remember seeing her in the show.

Todd said...

I'm still really enjoying this show, too, and I'm not sure where the hostility toward it is coming from from some critics (well, intellectually I do, but I'm surprised the show gets some people that worked up). Hopefully it continues to improve.

Tyroc said...

I thought this was the worst episode so far. Still curious to see where it's going, but less curious than I was a week ago (after what I thought was the strongest episode so far.)

And as already pointed out, it's bizarre for Thomas Jane to make that comment about the kids being his. Unless he was joking and trying to change the subject? Certainly many actors have trouble distancing themselves from the character they are so associated with, and its part of their process to feel they are the character, but so soon? Yikes! I really hope he was joking.

(Not sure why he would be so gruff given they just got picked up for a second season and he himself is getting amazing reviews, even if the show doesn't always get them.)

Razorback said...

I thought the episode was funny and I can see the setup for the next episode (which I expect to be great). The only thing I did not like is that the character seems incapable of things at first that he is suddenly capable of later (or should be capable of if he is not). That is not too far from the HEROES writers making characters suddenly forget their powers.

Anonymous said...


I saw Perlman's name, too. Thinking bad over the episode I can only assume she's going to play Tanya's mother and that it was her voice on the phone.


Matt said...

Yep, saw Perlman's name and went back and listened to the mother's voice on the phone call again. At first it sounded like Annie Potts, but if you listen close, it's Carla alright.

Joe said...

If the show was good it wouldn't need to slide to comedy or drama. It could stand on its own as a format changing show.

I don't like the show.
The stories are flat. The acting is not good.
The casting worse.

Sounds like the panel was defensive because they are realizing that the show isn't as good as they imagined.

Someone gave it a sensational title (HBO?) that doesn't match the spirit of the show (from the creator's statements) and now no one knows what to expect each episode.

I'm not watching any more.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I should say that, while Thomas Jane was overall pretty grouchy in the session, a few of his answers (the $300 line, leave my kids alone) were supposed to be jokes.

Anonymous said...

I've really enjoyed the show. And I don't normally like Thomas Jane.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy this show. It is getting better each week. Notice the next door neighbor looking at Ray while he's on the phone "doing business"? Loved the Hertz rental tags at the fancy restaurant.

Anonymous said...

"Later, when another reporter asked if Thomas Jane's anatomy was considered as part of the audition process..."

Brilliant, insightful reporting. Somebody get this man a Pulitzer.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of raising Dezs ire, and you know us True Blooders, we can't help but thread hijack, this past episode was outstanding. Really really good writing. Questions get answered, people get killed, impending conflict gets ratcheted up a notch. Overall: A.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Anonymous, now you're raising my ire. Stop. Just stop.

If/when I somehow change my mind and start watching True Blood again, and if/when I start writing about it, then you can comment on it in those posts. But I don't want to hear about it in posts for shows that are not True Blood. Period.

MitchP said...

I'm surprised about the reaction to the comedy/drama questions. The show has had just as many overtly sad/dramatic moments than comedic. It sounds like the panel was way too grumpy. Although double entrende jokes may be too easy to make, what do the people associated with the show expect? They created a comedy about a guy with a big penis and called it "Hung". I'm sure they counted on the shock value for their initial audience.

Anonymous said...

Ok, Alan, calm down.

Anonymous said...

Well, it's odd because I thought most of the critics I read said that the show was getting better with each episode, so I was confused as to what Alan described as general dislike of the show.

The not showing Ray's penis thing is pretty confusing too. They've already stated they won't show it (and probably never), so it seems like wasted questions. Besides, Boogie Nights had similar mythology about his penis, but they didn't show it until the end and it wasn't like they could show it in a pornographic model. They wanted the R rating and Mark W admitted to not being able to fill out the role completely. Maybe they are trying to be nice to Thomas Jane (although he sounded surly at times in your description).

As for the two kids not looking like their parents...I still think it's nice to see "real" kids on television instead of the A&F preppy look type found on the CW or MTV. Not every kid is super skinny with perfect skin. However, I can see how the question could be misinterpreted (just as my description of them) and kind of liked TJ's implied defense of them in his joke. Accidents happen like that to everyone. Besides, Thomas Jane may have been listening to the press that his show is saving the network rather than the apparent bad reviews that are out there and was suprised by the reactions of the audience.

Oh right, I liked last night's show too and I think Rhea Pearlman was Tanya's mother's voice heard briefly.

Anonymous said...

cant take the medias side for being hostile and being mad about it. even alan basically acknowledged that. maybe the panel should have said they were from fnl or buffy or bsg

Unknown said...

Since DSM was just on the night before I immediately recognised Natalie Zea, but immediately thought I was wrong and had just been watching too much DSM (rewatched through to last week etc), I spent the best part of the first 2 of her scenes doing double checks and telling myself it had to be someone else. She did indeed look younger and considerably more attractive.

In the last few DSM episodes I had changed my mind that she was actually a rather good actress given the material shed had to work with and this Hung ep emphasized that for me; I thought she did quite a fine job.

I really liked this episode, i found the idea that Ray has gotten his head around this whole concept now quite settling, and that his ego got way involved in the "hell I CAN do this - she isnt going to say no to me" aspect and turned it into something of a contest, yet at the same time I wondered if in between the lines he might actually be tripping up and at least in some small way end up falling for her himself. And it WAS funny.

The steaks scene was hilarious - self centered comedy in a i can get one-upmanship even if I'm the only one that's gonna know.

Tanya starts out so supposedly sure footed and self assured, Ray so totally the opposite, and in this episode there is a shift to essentially reverse that and I think they payed and wrote it rather well.

No disrespect here Alan; but your report on the panel just leaves me wondering what it takes to be some of these small minded, unimaginative, uncreative and childish idiots and still manage to con some kind of publisher / organisation into paying you for your time.

Dick jokes, sex jokes, body comparisons, sniggering... your question in isolation seemed fine to me, but I clearly see how it had already been lost totally in a sea of contempt for all of your fellows, and frankly quite rightly too.

If something doesnt fit - pigeon-hole it as fast as you can into the nearest next sized available space to deal with it... before you are caught out being seen to not know what to do with it. Doesn't say much for the other media people on that panel, but then I dont look to any of them for their opinions, and on that basis they are sure to not be likely to gain followers rapidly either.

Like them making all the noise about the anatomy comparisons and why haven't we seen it etc etc - reminds me directly of the two fellows standing in the bathroom - the one who looks down isnt Ray Drecker; why would he; no its the other guy that does so in an effort to assure himself hes not insignificant, because he secretly knows he probably is.

Anonymous said...

I'm not really sure why people are attacking the show as not being funny enough to be considered a comedy. Is Nure Jackie really that funny? Or United States of Tara? Or Secret Diary of a Call Girl? Was The Wonder Years? Was Doogie Howser? There are plenty of half hour shows out there that have straddled the comedy and drama line. I don't think this show is any more serious than any of those. The bottom line seems to be, though, that if a show is an hour long it is generally thought of as a drama (until the producers decide they'll get more awards in the comedy category, of course) and that if it's a half hour it's considered a comedy. I'm not sure why that is, but that seems to be the way it is regardless of actual content.

Otto Man said...

As for the two kids not looking like their parents...I still think it's nice to see "real" kids on television instead of the A&F preppy look type found on the CW or MTV.

Agreed, but Alan's question was still spot on -- those kids, particularly the son, don't look a thing like either parent.

Anonymous said...

I don't even consider United States of Tara a comedy. It's a drama with comedic elements but it is no comedy. Same with Breaking Bad. And, this show, I'm not sure it has developed it's footing. I'm not sure if it wants to be a comedy or a drama. Maybe it wants to straddle that line pretty consistently throughout. It is what it is. Is it reshaping my reflection on tv or does it make me feel an emotion about myself? No but I enjoy it.

troopermsu said...

I view Ray's tool as a character unto itself. But I think it would be better to leave this character unseen in the fashion of Carlton the Doorman or Maris Crane.

Unknown said...

Put me in the group that is liking Hung and thinking that the episodes are only getting better.

I think that the kids look plenty close enough to their parents. Or at least it never would have occurred to me if other people hadn't brought it up.

I have a slightly different take on Floyd "dumping" Tanya than some of the other commenters. It seemed clear to me that Tanya knew exactly what was up -- every bit as much as we do as the viewers. But she's so ultra-empathetic that she is nice to him even though she sees through him. And finally she sits Floyd down on the bed to try to offer him a friendly cut-the-bs talk. But he's so invested in being the wise teacher that he can't stand being pitied, so he pretends to dump her as a defense mechanism. Which understandably enrages Tanya.

I thought this episode was very funny. But I'm nonplussed by the question of whether it's a comedy or drama. That's a meaningless question. I'd say the mix about the same as Weeds. But who cares, as long as it's a good show.

Mike F said...

I started out watching this show each week with my wife and her sister (who has moved in with us for the summer).

The show lost my sister-in-law after two episodes and my wife after 3-4 episodes.

I'm still watching, but overall am feeling let down. There's not much else on this summer and I'll probably hang in there with it, but was hoping it would become a favorite or at least a very enjoyable half-hour...which is has decidedly not become.

At the same time, I've very pleased with the HBO and their summer sunday night lineup. Despite Hung being a bit of a downer, overall, its easily the most enjoyable night of television all-around.

Loretta said...

I'm rather surprised to hear about the awkwardness of the panel. I haven't read any other critics' reviews of Hung, and since your opinion seems to align with mine (generally positive, though noticing some missteps as the show grows into itself), I'm a little shocked at the semi-combative Q&A you described.

Anonymous said...

I think your question about the kids was completely valid, it's a weird plot point. Wouldn't Ray and Miss Prom Queen have had equally ambitious and beautiful kids? Thomas Jane sounds nasty...

Vic said...

It's funny, but it's as if I interpret every pivotal scene completely different to everyone else.

From the way I saw it, I was thinking Tanya was going to start questioning Floyd's business acumen, and he jumped on the misplaced affection bandwagon to take attention away from his failings as a teacher and businessman.

In that regard, the reason Floyd was with Tanya was that he thought she'd be a success ($$$), and wanted to set himself up for the payday.

Anonymous said...

Alan: First, thanks for all the great writing over the years.

I have a bet with a friend who says that the message in the cookies eaten by Howard Koontz's wife was purely accidental since Ray doesn't have a malevolent bone in his body. Whereas I maintain Ray certainly ordered the cookies from Tanya with the obvious intention of attempting to seduce Howard's wife in order to get him off his back or get even... Any thoughts? - Snagglepuss

Anonymous said...

@Snagglepuss: That's actually something we were discussing an episode or two back. My opinion is that Ray didn't know about the notes, or if he did, then he just thought they would continue on the line of "I'm sorry". To me, he just doesn't seem that vindictive, especially considering that he hasn't followed it up with any sly winks or anything at her.

Anonymous said...

Vic: Thanks for the response. I went back and found your earlier post about the cookie dilemma. I agree Ray's quizical expression when he later sees Mrs. Koontz argues against any duplicitous motives. FWIW, Tanya leaves the cookies for Ray in a small brown paper bag, while the cookies Ray presents to the Koontz's is in a small cardboard box.
- Snagglepop

Anonymous said...

@Snagglepop: Yeah, I picked up on Ray giving the cookies to her in a box, which I found weird. That could mean that Tanya baked him up a new batch, which is weird for a few reasons...

- it would mean Ray knew about the notes, which judging by his response, doesn't seem likely

- it seems against Ray's nature to go to that much trouble for something so subtle. Ray has a somewhat crude way about him.

- being that Ray was working on the house for what seemed like most of the day, I doubt he would have had the time to call Tanya up, get her to cook up a new batch of cookies, and pick them up.

Haha, we've really gotten fixated on what is a relatively minor point, but that's what I love about the show, that its got some layers to it.

Anonymous said...

Vic: I also love the fact that Ray takes a bite of one of the cookies to prove that it's simply a cookie...and then sticks the remainder of it back in the box and hands it all over to the Koontz's!
- SP

Alex said...

Sheesh. Thomas Jane's dick is the briefcase in Pulp Fiction; the details aren't relevant, the point is simply that people want it.

JMC said...

First off, it's not like Alan and others haven't commented on the echo chamber effect at these kind of events. You have a room full of writers/journalists looking to somehow get that certain question that's gonna be the 'winnuh' and then you have a group of creators and actors that have probably suffered through all this double-entendre stuff since the show's first pitch-meeting... of course it can be off-putting to them. And I guess I'm showing my politically correct brain-washing, but I do find it offensive that folks can't wrap their mind around parents and children that don't look similar to each other. I find that more a statement that in real life that can happen from time to time, but in the 'rules' of TV, that can't happen, so I applaud the writers for at least trying to break that one silly maxim. Fer chrissake, it's a family of 2 parents, 2 kids, all white. That's enough! LOL

The show is really great, I have much fun watching such accomplished actors like Adams and Jane work with this material. Even the press trying to get them to 'explain' if its comedy or dramedy or a toothpaste commercial is so ridiculous. Why not just let it be? Ian McShane's tantrum during press promotion of Kings is completely understandable now in hindsight. Imagine if William Shakespeare had to do these kind of press tours.

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