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Media: Hang ‘em High:

HBO’s delightful new series Hung enters completely new territory that is sure to draw both men and women viewers. Hung reverses the usual stereotype, woman is dumped by husband and must care for her two kids. With no prospects and no money she turns to prostitution (or stripping or selling drugs) in order to make ends meet. It’s the same rules but they’ve flipped it and turned the would-be female lead into a male lead.

The male lead is Ray Drecker, played by the muscular and attractive Thomas Jane. Ray finds himself left with nothing except a divine attribute: he’s well hung. In the first episode, directed by film auteur Alexander Payne, Ray is shouted at by his ex-wife as she’s leaving him. She’s played by Anne Heche, who tells him all of the great things he used to be, at the end of the list is that he was also “hung.” And now, she screams, all he is is “hung!”

A guy’s gotta start somewhere. After he meets a poet (Jane Adams) she decides to help him market himself as a male prostitute who services women. Most of us gals don’t go looking for male prostitutes because we always assumed they were only available for other males. But if one could order up someone like Ray Drecker for a few hours of fun, it might be something to consider.

The pilot episode promises more of the same: witty dialogue, absurd situations — with Alexander Payne at the helm it offers much of the same laughs as Payne’s hit, Sideways. It isn’t the same territory necessarily but it’s the same wry, sad and witty tone.

Hung is also, as it turns out, a poignant show for a time in our history when many are finding themselves unemployed, foreclosed, in debt and divorced. Ray endures and in a small way, thrives as he comes to own his god-given gift. Jane’s portrayal of him is spot-on in that he doesn’t see himself as particularly educated, yet he is smart about people, smart about women.

You can’t judge a show by its pilot most of the time. But Hung, if it keeps going this way, promises more of the same, and will likely go much further into the sexual realm. Women’s sexuality is a tough nut to crack and it’s been a while since there was a television icon women could look to as a creation for themselves. At the same time, Ray functions as a male fantasy too; a man who is driven by circumstances to be the heart’s desire of women everywhere. And what man doesn’t want women breathlessly declaring them hung every five seconds?

Once again, HBO leads the charge of the best new things on TV. They are making it more difficult for the major networks to keep up in terms of quality, content and artistic freedom. They can afford to take big risks because even their really bad stuff is still better than almost everything else on the air.

Hung airs Sunday at 10pm and is available on HBO On Demand.

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